Thursday, June 4, 2015


The Philippines. Thailand. A little vacation I've come to call "Thailippines."

Working in China means I get a little holiday called "Spring Festival" or "Chinese New Year." Also, since I don't get Christmas off like teachers at the International schools do, that means I get four weeks off for the Chinese New Year holiday. 4 WEEKS! When you look at it from the beginning side, it seems like so long. But now that I'm back to work and I reflect on the vacation and time away, it went by TOO quickly. 

Last year, I spent my 4 week vacation traveling throughout Southeast Asia (you can read about it here, here, and here). I spent time in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, traveled through Cambodia seeing the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and I was overcome with love when visiting Thailand when exploring Chiang Mai and Phuket. My holiday last year was filled with adventure, relaxation, and learning. I became a bit of a history buff while on that trip. 

This year's vacation was a bit different. I spent the majority of this vacation relaxing on the beach, soaking up the sun, and being so carefree. And I loved every. single. minute. I spent my holiday traveling with my friends Ken and Elspeth around the Philippines and then I went back to Phuket, Thailand.

I spent my first week of vacation in Boracay, Philippines and on White Beach. White Beach can be found on many top ten lists of the best beaches in the world. And the reason is very clear to me! This beach and the surrounding area is absolutely stunning. The sand is soft and doesn't get that hot in the sun. The water stretches out to the horizon and is speckled with sailboats, people wind surfing, parasailing, and boats motoring by with explorers checking out the island from a different perspective. It is definitely a busy beach area, but the beach stretches for miles! (well, really only about 4km, but thats still a BIG beach for a small town girl whose town probably only stretches 10km). 

Ken and I stayed at a hotel right on the beach. And our days seemed to follow the same relaxing and carefree routine. Get up, enjoy a complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel, find a perch on the beach, soak up the sun, swim, and read the afternoon away. Then, I'd watch the sunset every night, get dressed for dinner, eat a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants set up on the beach, listen to a band play and have a few drinks, then call it a night. Take me back? 

One day, we veered away from our routine and took in an island hopping tour of Boracay. Our friend from work, Derek, joined us. We boarded a boat that took us to an island called Crystal Cove. The waters were a bit rough that day making for a bumpy ride. It was really cute listening to the Asian tourists at the front of the boat whenever we would hit the REALLY rough waters. The boat would bounce up and down and sometimes water would splash up on to the boat. They would squeal and laugh and laugh. It was adorable and I found myself giggling at the happiness that was exuding from them. Clearly, they were enjoying their vacation! 

(Sidenote: There were these three young guys sitting across from Derek, Ken, and I and they were constantly rolling their eyes, snickering, and making smart ass comments about other passengers on the boat, including the joyful passengers riding shotgun. I became annoyed with them quickly. What kind of person criticizes someone else's happiness? Pet peeve!) 

Once we made it to Crystal Cove, I was so drawn in to the beauty of this island. There were pathways all through the island that lead to different huts and forts you could climb up to the roof of and look out at the view. You could see for what seemed like FOREVER. The water changed in to different shades of blue and green. There were mountains in the distance and the sky was so blue. It was gorgeous. The picture above is of Crystal Cove. It doesn't quite capture all that I saw, but it gives an idea of the charm and beauty of this small island.

On Crystal Cove, there were these two caves that you could squeeze yourself in to. It was kind of neat to see, and fun to squat and crawl and duck through the small tunnels in to the open-mouthed caves. Since the water was so rough that day, the water came crashing in to the caves with lots of power. I got a little wet while trying to take pictures! And the men working in the cave got a laugh out of my squeals and wincing.

After visiting Crystal Cove, we headed to another island where we had lunch. Lots of homemade Filipino food and BBQ. It was a great place to look out at the vast amount of water that reached out to the horizon. It was beautiful!

After a week in Boracay, Ken and I reluctantly, but at the same time excitedly, left and made out journey to Palawan - another island in the Philippines. This is where Elspeth joined us on our trip. None of us really had much knowledge of what to expect from Palawan, but we had heard rave reviews from lots of friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. The biggest pull for us to go to Palawan was to see the Underground River (but more about this later).

Firstly, let me tell you about the paradise we stayed at. A beautiful oasis of a place that was recommended to us by friends who stayed there during the Christmas holiday. Nitivos Beach Resort on Honda Bay was a very beautiful hotel situated right on its own private beach. It was very quiet, with no more than 10 guests at a time. The resort is constructed of bamboo-type huts around one side of the land. In front of the huts are hammocks swinging between palm trees, rock-lined paths, shrubs and greenery throughout, and covered shelters with reclining chairs and more hammocks. A fence separated the hotel from the beach, which was literally 20 steps away from our hotel room door. The physical appearance of the resort was one thing, but the staff and owner of the resort was another. Elena, the owner/manager of the resort, was AMAZING. Extremely friendly, generous, kind, and amazingly helpful! We would wake up in the morning and sit out on the deck in front of our room, and Elena would be there with coconuts and straws for us to drink. When we wanted to spend the day doing a tour, Elena would arrange everything for us so that we just had to show up and be ushered in the right direction. She and the rest of the staff at Nitivos went above and beyond the call of duty every day, and we were extremely appreciative of this. 

On our second day in Palawan, Elspeth, Ken and I took an island hopping tour of Honda Bay. Elena had arranged for a friend to take us to three different islands on his private boat. He picked us up on the beach in front of the resort. And away we went. It was a long trek to the first island, but the water was extremely calm and we were some of the only people on the water that early in the morning (besides the odd fishermen here and there and a houseboat or two). The first island we came to was called Pandan. Here, we could relax on the beach, kayak, or go snorkeling. Ken chose to relax on the beach while Elspeth and I went on a little snorkeling adventure.

Ken and I went snorkeling in Boracay and it was nice, but I was expecting something a little more colourful. That's exactly what Elspeth and I got in Palawan off Pandan Island. I had purchased a waterproof case for my iPhone before leaving for this trip. I was a bit apprehensive to submerge the phone in the water in case the quality wasn't as good as guaranteed. I tested it out on the shore and didn't see any bubbles from water leaking in. So I crossed my fingers and dunked the phone under water where we were snorkeling to get some pictures and videos. Good news: my phone survived AND I got some great photos to remember this adventure by!

It felt like Elspeth and I were only out in the water for maybe 20 minutes. But I have a feeling it was more like an hour. I just couldn't stop looking. If I stayed still, the fish would swim right up to my face and body, within like 2 inches. I found fish that looked like Nemo, fish that were beautiful rainbow colours, and fish that looked like tigers. Unfortunately, my back was exposed to the direct sunlight for maybe TOO long and I got myself a nasty (and my only!) sunburn. I felt it immediately after I got out of the water. My shirt itched on my back, it felt like an oven inside my shirt, and I started to get the chills. It was a nasty burn that resulted in Elspeth yelling "Oh my GOD!" when I took my shirt off for her to rub aloe on later that night. It hurt. I was angry. Boo.

The rest of the island hopping trip we spent going to smaller islands like Starfish Island (yes, it is exactly what the title implies) and a VERY small island next to our hotel. Startfish Island was very narrow and was scattered with these interesting looking starfish in the shallow areas of the water. Like seriously, I've never seen a starfish like this before:

They were very hard, but the dark pointy-like ends weren't sharp. They were rounded at the top. Very different from the starfish I've seen on the East Coast of Canada. It was a beautiful and very quiet island. After the long boat ride back to the area of our hotel, our guides took us to a little sand bar island. It was literally the smallest island I've ever seen. I didn't actually count how long it took me to walk from one end to the other, but it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds. NOT exaggerating. It was very tiny. Of course, we didn't stay too long because, honestly, there wasn't much to see. It was just the idea of us, 3 teachers from Canada, standing on this little sand plateau in the middle of the water somewhere in the Philippines just taking it all in. It kind of takes my breath away thinking about it again. 

The little island that could. 

The next day in Palawan, we got up bright and early and made our way to the Underground River. This was one of the main reasons why we chose to come to Palawan. We had heard people talk about this phenomenon and we all wanted to see it for ourselves. Now, I'm no expert on these geological phenomenons, nor am I really that good at understanding them when they are explained to me. But from my limited research and from what I learned on our trip, I gather that the Underground River is a serious of caves that go on for MILES inside the mountains surrounding the sea. Recently, the Underground River was voted one of the 7 Nature Wonders of the World. All the connecting rivers through the caves are said to be around 8 km long, but most of that is unable to be seen by the public as it is protected by the government. However, there is a 1.7 km long pathway that is open to the public, and that is the pathway that we visited on this day. 

It took us about an hour and a half to drive to Sabang (where the Underground River is) and we drove on some VERY windy roads. Extremely sharp turns, narrow roads, and lots of trees and mountains. It was beautiful while at the same time quite a thrill ride. After arriving in Sabang and registering, we boarded a charter boat to the mouth of the caves, put on our stylish, bright orange hard hats, hopped on a row boat, and entered the caves.

It's really hard to explain what we saw. At the head of our boat was a spotlight. We used the spotlight to catch glimpses of some amazing rock formations. Some of the ceilings inside the caves were low, and some were 4 or 5 stories high. The colours inside the caves range from grey, black, white, and we even saw some rock formations that naturally sparkled, like they had been dusted with glitter. Our tour guide was hilarious and had a nice little comedy routine going on. He had nicknames for some of the rock formations like: naked lady, Titanic, and T-rex. He even had a rock formation named Jesus. And honestly, after he told us the names of the rocks, they really did resemble their inspirations. 

And of course, the cave was FILLED with bats. SO MANY BATS. Every now and then the spotlight was pointed to the ceiling and it was caked with bats just hanging out upside down. The caves were filled with bugs and mosquitos too, so often the bats would swoop down for a nibble. Thankfully not on me! The tour guide also informed us that in some of the rocks we would be able to find some of the most poisonous and dangers tarantulas. You know that saying: "Ignorance is bliss"? Yup, would have rather not known that information! However, despite my strong dislike for bats, I really enjoyed the caves and what I saw and learned. I really have seen nothing like that before! And it was great to know I was witnessing a part of natural history that is still being developed and explored today.

It was really hard to get a good picture inside the dark caves. But I did get a couple: one of a really interesting rock formation (FUN FACT: it has taken that shape because of all the bat poop. You're welcome!) and one of all the bats hanging on one small section of the cave ceiling and wall. EW!

Our last day in Palawan we spent at the hotel/resort hanging out on the beach soaking up the sun and swimming, and reading, napping, and relaxing on the hammocks. It was a very relaxing and tranquil last day. All in all, I loved the Philippines! It is a beautiful country and the people are amazing. I saw some of the most spectacular and breath taking views in the Philippines. I also took in the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. I would love to visit again and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.

Thailand was perfection. And I expected nothing less! I visited Phuket, Thailand last year during my Spring Festival holiday. I fell in love instantly. I loved the people, I loved the culture, I loved the beautiful sights, and I LOOOOVED the food. So, when planning for our Spring Festival trip this year, both Ken and Elspeth had mentioned they really wanted to go to Thailand and I hopped right on board. They both were interested in going to Phuket but expressed concern that I'd already been there and maybe wouldn't enjoy myself as much, or maybe I wanted to visit somewhere new. I assured them I was beyond happy to visit Phuket again!

We spent a week in Phuket. My main goals while in there: eat all of the delicious food, go parasailing, and relax on the beaches. Check. Check. and Check! Parasailing was definitely a highlight. I had wanted to do it during my vacation last year, but didn't want to do it alone. I wanted to share the experience with someone else. So, when I expressed my NEED to go parasailing on this vacation, Elspeth was quick to jump on board!

The day we chose to go parasailing, we were turned away at first because there was absolutely no wind. They told us to come back later in the afternoon in hopes that the wind would pick up a bit. Sure enough, around 1:30pm on the dot, a breeze came along and we rushed ourselves back to the parasailing booth. They gave us the go ahead to be strapped to the end of a boat pulled over the water!

I agreed to go first, and they strapped me in to the harness. Tightly. It was very unflattering to the body, but I sure wasn't going to fall out of it. (I hoped!) Like seriously, my boobs have NEVER been pushed up so high towards my chin. This harness was snug! The workers told me they'd count to three and that I needed to run without dragging my feet until I was pulled in to the air. At this point, I was feeling pretty nervous. Those thoughts started running through my head like: "What if the rope breaks?" "What if I don't get pulled in to the air and I land face first in to the sand?" "What if I fall out of the harness?" I know I squealed a little bit before take off, and I know my heart was racing. I saw the boat start speeding away ahead of me, and the pile of rope on the sand started unwinding and getting smaller and smaller. 1...2...3...I ran and after about three long strides, I was airborne. It was such an amazing feeling! I panicked a little bit at the beginning because when I was pulled in the air, the harness slipped out from under my butt a little bit and towards the tailbone area. I pictured myself falling to my death. But once I remembered that I was also strapped around my thighs and it was impossible to fall out, I calmed down and enjoyed the ride. At one point, the driver of the boat slowed down and let me drift towards the water for my feet to touch. And then he sped up again and I felt the pull of being thrown in to the sky. I'm grinning while remembering these feelings. It was so fun! And the views were so beautiful. Go parasailing. Check off the bucket list!

Also while in Phuket, I went on another island hopping tour. Last year, I did the Ko Phi Phi tour and highly recommended it to Ken and Elspeth. They took my recommendation, but I knew I didn't want to do it again. I wanted to see something new. So, I looked at some pamphlets and talked to my friend Robin who I met in Phuket last year, and decided to go on the James Bond Island tour. I was not disappointed with my decision. I don't think I mentioned this to Elspeth and Ken (and if you're reading this now, sorry to drop this bombshell on you here!) but I think that I liked this tour much more than I liked the Ko Phi Phi tour.

I boarded a two-story yacht with about 25-30 other people. From here, we spent the day exploring around the Phang Nga Bay. We visited an island where we could swim or relax on the beach. I spent my time walking around and checking out the small huts and looking out over the water towards the horizon. Snapped a couple of photos while I was at it. But my favourite part of the day was when we were able to get off the yacht and kayak around the big rock islands. That's why I liked this tour much more than the Ko Phi Phi tour. Because we were on a yacht and not a speed boat, I was able to take in the scenery all day. When you are in a speed boat, you can't see anything because the boat is covered and when you are going "full speed ahead" you are sitting at an angle and unable to see anything. The yacht goes slower and stays upright, so it made for a lot of great photo opportunities.

And the views were INCREDIBLE! Like nothing I've seen before. Seriously guys, every where I looked there were these enormous rock islands resembling what I imagine an iceberg would look like standing out of the water. They were literally scattered all over the bay and they speckled the horizon every where I looked. I can't describe it and the pictures definitely don't do it justice. But take a look for yourself!

Ok, back to the kayaking. This was a lot of fun, and the views were beautiful. We got off the yacht, and were taken out in inflatable kayaks which toured us in caves, around the rocks, and even underneath some of them. The caves were filled with amazing rock formations, much like the ones I saw when visiting the Underground River in Palawan. And yes, there were A LOT of bats. And yes they made noises. And yes they flew close to my head. But I was able to refrain from screeching, my family will be happy to know!

The combination of the sun, the greenish blueish water, the enormous rocks, and the wildlife that surrounded me, I can't fully explain to you the peace and relaxation I felt. I also had to keep reminding myself that this IS my reality. I was really in this place, seeing these things, and having this adventure. ME! This girl from small town New Brunswick was sitting in a kayak, in the "middle of nowhere", Thailand, seeing all of this with my own eyes. It reignited the exhilaration of traveling within me and made me proud that this is the life I have chosen to live. The one life I have.

The last stop of the tour was was at the infamous James Bond Island. While this was the headline island and the star of the show, it wasn't my favourite island. I don't know much about the island, but based on the title, I'm guessing it was a location for one of the older James Bond movies. The entire island was PACKED with tourists. Tourists taking selfies, tourists buying souvenirs from the several knickknack shops, tourists walking the trails. It was just crowded. So I took my pictures of the precious rock in the middle of the water, took a selfie, bought a magnet for my collection, and headed back to the boat.

So, the week in Phuket was quickly coming to an end. One thing you have to do when you are in Thailand is going to see a Ladyboy show. I saw one last year and it was amazing! The lip-syncing, the dancing, the outfits, the GLITTER. We headed to Patong to have a meal, some drinks, and take in a show. It was fun! Oh, and then afterwards I got a tattoo. Spontaneously. Like seriously probably the most spontaneous thing I've ever done. But I'll write a separate post about that and what I got and why. Here's a little teaser! 

And there you have it! The week came to an end and I boarded a plane for Hefei to celebrate Amanda and Tony's Chinese Wedding. Vacation was over and it was back to the grind. I had a blast! I loved every minute of my trip, I enjoyed so much traveling with Elspeth and Ken, I got a beautiful tan (after only burning once), I checked things off my bucket list, had new adventures, and created a ton of memories! 

1 comment:

  1. Love the photo of you sitting on the kayak, with your scarf and sunglasses. You look so happy and carefree!