Visiting Boracay, Philippines – Part 2

Boracay was so much fun. It was relaxing, exhilarating, exhausting, and above all else, a ton of fun. Our second day in Boracay, post-pubcrawl, we headed down to white sand beach and rented a paddle board for a few bucks. Nicole and I took turns riding it, then got really confident and tried our luck with both of us on it. As you can see from the Boracay video, disaster hilariously ensued.

ATVs and Mountaintop Towers

After some fun in the sun we returned the paddle board and rode ATVs up to the top of the highest point on the island. As if that wasn’t enough, someone built a tower on top of the island that takes you above the tree-line so you can see everything in all directions, literally the entire island.

Snorkeling and Cliff diving at Ariel’s Point

Ariel's Point
Ariel’s Point

Later in the week, Nicole and I visited Ariel’s point, a private beach area separate from Boracay. To get to the island we met up at a hotel in Station 1 and took a boat 30 minutes out to Ariel’s point. Boarding the boat was an adventure. It could only come in towards the beach so far so we waded out to meet it, carrying out bags and backpacks over our head. The day we went it wasn’t too crowded. The island can handle three boats of visitors, but we only had 2 boats go out the day we visited. On the island there’s a bar, catered lunch, free snorkel gear, kayaks, and several places to cliff dive from: 5m, 8m, and 15m. We spent the afternoon cliff diving, Nicole and I each did all three jumps. Nicole was actually the last person to jump off the 15m cliff before we boarded the boat back to Boracay. In addition to cliff diving, we also rented snorkels and explored the reefs surrounding Ariel’s point.

Parasailing

All suited up for parasailing
All suited up for parasailing

At Ariel’s Point we met two teachers teaching in China. One of them was from my alma mater, UF. Nicole and I ended up joining them for some parasailing along the white sand beach the following day. I’d never been parasailing before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. At the one we did, you got all hooked up in a harness and attached to the sail then they slowly let you out like a kite from the back of the boat. Aside from boarding the boat from the beach we never even got wet. I was surprised by how far the parasail went out. By the time the sail line was all the way extended, the boat was a tiny dot far below us.

Island Hopping

Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove

The following day we met up with out Chinese teacher friends and took an island hopping cruise around the coast of Boracay. This was one of my favorite days in Boracay. Our first stop was on a small island called Crystal Cove. The island’s coast is all white sand beach along one side and volcanic cliffside on the other. On the cliffside there were two coves we could climb down into and go snorkeling out through a hole in the cliff face. The first cove was reached via a bamboo spiral staircase into the Earth. The second cove you walked down into then crawled through a narrow tunnel no more than a meter in height which opened into a much larger chamber.

Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove

Crocodile Island

After Crystal Cove we went Crocodile Island, named for it’s shape, not the animals that inhabited it. The island could barely be called an island. It was no bigger than my apartment. However, the snorkeling around it was fantastic, almost as good as Bali. The current was really aggressive though so we  snorkeled near the boat and occasionally had to grab hold of one of the many safety lines to keep from being swept out to sea.

Beachside Lunch Buffet

By this point I’d worked up a hearty appetite and was grateful to break for lunch at our next stop, a small beachside cafe. The cafe served a buffet of cured meats, veggies, and rice. I had my fill and walked out to the beach in front of the restaurant to watch the waves. At this point we’d navigated halfway around the island of Boracay and were opposite Station 1, 2, and 3. This side of the island was so much quieter and more peaceful. Aside from our island hopping group, there were only a handful of locals on the beach. I watched our boat bob up and down in the water as several little boys, took turns climbing onto the outriggers and doing flips off of them into the water.

Island hopping
Island hopping

After lunch, we all boarded to boat again. The boys doing back flips climbed onto the outriggers and rode with the boat for a few minutes before jumping off and swimming back to shore. Our next stop was another snorkeling spot, this one nestled into a lagoon on the Northside of the island. The snorkeling here was the best of the whole tour. There were tons of large brain coral and other colorful varieties that I could not begin to name. Aside from great snorkeling, the Northside of the island, is also home to some truly extravagant resorts off in their own little area and not easily accessible from the rest of the beaches at Stations 1 through 3. From where we snorkeled we could see white stucco villas in stair step formation descending down the mountain to greet the sea with their own private beaches.  We looked up the prices on the hotels there and they were quite reasonable, in the neighborhood of $200/night: way more than we were paying, but on par with a hotel in a big city anywhere else in the world. With all the amenities included, such as private speedboat pickup from the port, it’s probably worth it if we ever return.

Luxury hotel on Boracay
Luxury hotel on Boracay

Puka Beach

Our last stop of the day was Puka beach on the northernmost point of Boracay. It had even fewer people than our lunch buffet beach and the few people it had were spread along its expansive shores. Our boat pulled right up to shore and we all hopped out. Greeting us right along the beach was a local Philipino selling Magnum ice creams right out of a makeshift styrofoam cooler. Man, the only thing better than an icecream on a hot day, is ice cream on a hot beach. Ice cream in hand, we found some lounge chairs to rent and spent the last hours of our afternoon enjoying the calm beach waters and tranquility of Puka beach. We tried to go back later in the trip, but alas, the weather didn’t hold up.

Dinner

After Puka beach we returned to Station 2 and had a bite to eat for dinner. All along the beach, after sundown, restaurants have fire dancers entertaining hungry patrons at their restaurants with impressive fire juggling and tricks. Nicole and I did out Boracay trip for pretty cheap. However, if we ate frugally we could have done Boracay for even less, but what’s the point in vacationing and not living it up with delicious foods from around the world. One night we had seafood pizza and tuna ceviche. Another night we had truffle mac & cheese. One night we really splurged and went to one of the best seafood buffets I’ve ever been too. There was limitless crab and lobster, steak and oysters. Throughout the night the chefs would come out and dance to pop songs. It was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.

 

Winter Vacation Part 7 – Bali

For those following along at home, Nicole and I visited Osaka, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore before moving on to beautiful Bali. Nicole found an awesome travel deal for a resort in Bali. For around $400 we got a week’s stay, a deluxe room with a hot tub on the balcony, free dinner one night, free breakfast everyday, and free airport drop off/pick up. It was an amazing deal and one of the cornerstones of the trip. It was one of the first things we booked and the basis of what we planned around. If you don’t want to read the whole post, watch the video below, courtesy of the GoPro Nicole bought me for Christmas.

Sleeping in the airport
Sleeping in the airport

If you remember, Nicole and I spent the last night in Singapore sleeping in the airport. I’ve never slept in an airport before but if I ever had to do it again, I would stay in the Singapore airport. We woke refreshed and since we’d already passed through security, our walk to the gate was only a few minutes. The flight wasn’t very crowded and everyone seemed in a good mood. After all, they were going to Bali.

Getting to Bali

We landed a few hours later and disembarked. Bali was hot, but tropical island hot, not city-in-summer hot. To get through Bali customs you need to pay around $30 for your visa. That equates to an absurd amount of money in Indonesian Rupee. We took out something like 400,000IDR each. Then I lost my debit card. The ATMs in Bali were really slow so I think I just walked away with my money and receipt and the machine ate my card. I’ve never lost a credit card or debit card before and already I’d lost it literally 15 minutes into our trip. No big deal though. I cancelled my card at the hotel and that was that.

As part of the Travelzoo deal that Nicole found, we got free airport pickup, a first for me as an adult. The driver was nice and the hotel was even nicer. It was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. There was a pool with several waterfalls, a swim-up bar, a beautiful dining area that opened out into the pool. Our first day we just explored Sanur, the area we were staying in.

Yoga

The second day in Bali, Nicole and I took a cab to the Yoga Barn in Ubud. Nicole’s always wanted to visit the Yoga Barn and I like doing yoga sometimes so it was a good fit. We signed up for a relaxing type of yoga. Most of the hour we laid on the ground and squished a tennis ball into our kidneys using our body weight. It was not the best use of $5.  After yoga we ate at their vegan cafe. I had some sort of tempeh taco and a mint lime drink with a shot of honey. It was pretty good. I would definitely recommend the cafe.

A note about cabs. The blue cabs with a bird logo on them are the ones you want to use. The other ones are likely to scam you.

Massages

massages
massages

After yoga, Nicole and I got a couples massage and body scrub for an hour for nickels. Okay, not quite that low, it was around $10 a person. The massage was amazing and the scrub was….rejuvenating. I’m sure if you’re a lady without body hair it’s great but for me it just felt like someone with a handful of coarse sand was trying to scrub off my top layer of skin.

Monkey Forest

After being massaged and scrubbed within an inch of my life Nicole and I visited the Ubun Monkey Forest. It’s a preserve filled with semi-wild monkeys. They roam around and people feed them. Nicole was too afraid to get near them so we skipped the feeding part. The monkey forest is also filled with some incredible temples, waterfalls and bridges. Admission was something like $2 and included a free postcard.

Surfing

Surfing
Surfing

The following day Nicole and I visited Kuta and went surfing. Kuta is a bit more lively than Sanur. Sanur is a more laid back restaurant and quiet beach area. Kuta is where the backpackers go to buy neon tank tops, ray-bans, and tattoos. There are lots of hawkers on the street selling bracelets and bars blasting dubstep. All that aside, there’s a nice beach with great waves. Nicole and I rented a board to share and took turns surfing up and down the beach. Nicole had never surfed before so I taught her, and after a little practice, she was able to stand up and ride a wave.

That night we returned to Sanur and the hotel and went out for food there. We found a place right off the beach that had those giant drinks you see in movies about tropical islands. My drink came in a pineapple and Nicole got a drink inside a coconut. Both had umbrellas and fruit. We also got surf and turf for a few dollars each. We were only halfway through our time in Bali and already trying to find a time to come back again.

Snorkeling

Snorkel cafeOriginally we’d planned to get SCUBA certified in Bali. However, there was so much to do in Bali, it was impossibly to commit to three days of training and sitting in a classroom when we could be surfing and rafting. We decided to book a snorkel trip instead. Based on the time constraints of our week in Bali, it was definitely the right decision. A van picked us up from the hotel and took us to the dive center where we signed our lives away and met a nice guy from the UK. He was doing a dive that day and recommended a number of great dives for us the next time we’re in Bali.

The drive out to the boat was only an hour, like just about everything in Bali. It’s not that anything is particularly far, its just the roads are small and windy so the travel itself takes awhile. We dropped our things off at a little cafe on the beach and changed into our swimsuits. Our buddy from the UK took one boat and we took another. The trip out to the reef was only a few minutes and definitely worth it. We put on flippers and hopped overboard. The reef was incredible, and so close. It was right below us. At times I thought I might scrape myself against the coral it was so close. There were so many fish and different colored coral. It was even better than what I remember of the Great Barrier Reef.

Nicole and a traditional Balinese dancer
Nicole and a traditional Balinese dancer

We stayed an hour at that reef before boarding the boat again and visiting another coral reef 5 minutes away. It was inside of a small cove and just as vibrant as the previous spot. Our guide led us around the reef and showed us schools of fish as well as some giant brain coral.

At the end of our trip we took the boat back to the beachside cafe and had some lunch before heading back to the hotel. That night Nicole and I went out to eat in Sanur again. At the restaurant we went to they had traditional Balinese dancing and a live band performing. The performance was a sort of “best of” various Balinese plays. There was one lead female dancer and she invited Nicole up on stage to dance with her a few times. The food was really good as well. A little too good.

White water rafting

Nicole and I rafting
Nicole and I rafting

On our second to last day Nicole and I took a white water rafting trip. A van picked us up early in the morning and took us and an Arabic couple high into the mountains, seemingly to the top of Bali. We hopped in a raft with our guide and made our way down the rapids. Many years ago I went white-water rafting in Costa Rica and while the rapids there claimed to be level 3, they felt pretty tame. The rapids in Bali were a whole other story. We were tossed around and went over rocks, rapids, and even a waterfall. The rafting was fantastic and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to visit Bali. However, be careful when choosing your guide. Some of the guides out there are less experienced than others and you’ll spend more time on the rocks than actually going down the rapids.

At the end of our several hour rapid adventure, we hopped off the raft and climbed what felt like a thousand steps. Nicole and I have climbed many steps before like in Hong Kong and at the Cherry Blossom festival, but this was insane. I was fine to climb them, but Nicole was feeling a bit under the weather and had to take some breaks on the way up.

Leaving Bali

It’s with a heavy heart that I write about leaving Bali. We had a blast while we were there. We rafted, snorkeled, surfed, dined, relaxed. We did it all in only a few days and for a fraction of what it would cost to do just about anywhere else in the world. Of all the places I’ve ever traveled, Bali was one of my favorites.