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Michael

Malaysia

Langkawi, Malaysia

 

Langkawi, Malaysia was once a quiet fishing and farming island that has blossomed into quite the vacation paradise! The government declared Langkawi duty free of tax and they set up a development committee to help draw attention in hopes to transform the island for tourism. Every bit must have helped cause now Langkawi is named The Princess Jewel of South East Asia!

Langkawi can be done on any type of budget. In general I find it a hair more expensive then neighboring Thailand but still very affordable. But due to it being a duty free island the booze is much cheaper then the other places I visited in Malaysia.

The best way to explore Langkawi is by scooter. You can get a first hand look at all of the amazing wildlife, beaches and nature via scooter. You can pick on up in town from 30-55 ringgit per day. ($7-$12) Make sure you download the offline map Maps.me! It is brilliant for traveling without a sim and it has all of the beaches, lookouts and waterfalls on the map!

Langkawi has something to offer on every budget but for me and my long time travel plan, I chose the budget options. This time I booked a few nights at the Tubotel. As far as hostels in Langkawi go it doesn’t get any better then this place!

The price was about $11 per night (50 ringgit) and that includes one of the best hostel breakfasts I have had. You get a choice between 4 different options that change daily. The views from the hostel and the sun sets are also amazing!

Pantai Cenang Beach is as amazing as I remembered it but the town is now just a dust cloud of construction and traffic. The last time I was here the Main Street was full of local shops and tiki bars with cheap cocktails. But those small tiki bars have been long torn down and replaces with hotels and resorts. I didn’t even recognize the place! But if you stay out of the town and plan to explore the island on your own you are in for a treat!

Pretty much everything else is exactly where I left it three years ago. The Island has many waterfalls worth visiting depending on the time of year and amount of rain. The Durian Perangin falls is always a good place to start!

My first day on the island I got myself a scooter and took a lap around the island. It takes about an hour and a half to make the loop around. One thing that stuck out in my memory from last time was this amazing little Hindu temple in the middle of the jungle so that was my first plan. To find this temple.

An hour of wandering around later and just as bright and beautiful as ever I found it! I pulled up and parked the scooter. There were a hand full of people here setting up for a wedding. Cars and scooters of people pulling up with trays of sweets and gifts. I just sat outside of the fence and watched.

An Indian man in traditional attire walked past me and invited me inside. I thanked him and continued to watch from the side lines. Beautiful women dressed in bright colors, gold jewelry barefoot walking into the temple. Before the ceremony began a woman from the wedding walked outside of the temple and grabbed me by the hand. She walked me inside of the temple to the very front row! In front of the friends and family. A girl came to me with a pot full of red dye. She marked my forehead and told me she was glad that I could make it. As if I was meant to be there.

I stayed for the remainder of the ceremony. They were all so happy that I could join them and be a part of it. It was an amazing experience! Afterwards I was invited to dinner and the reception the following day. Great people!

 

 

Now let’s talk about a little lesson in living the dream. Say you’re in a place like Langkawi and you want to completely live the dream. But you don’t want to pay for it. Understandable. This is what I do.

1. Get yourself a smokin hot french girl.

(Photo-The Andaman Resort)

2. Go to the fanciest resort that you can find on the map.

(Photo-The Andaman)

3. Go to said resort and ask to see the manager.

(Photo-Tanjung Rhu Resort)

4. Tell the manager how you and your hot French girlfriend plan to get married and you would like to bring all of your friends and family to stay at their resort. And ask for a tour.

(Photo-The Four Seasons)

5. If the manager is doing half their job he or she will do as they have done for me. A complete tour of the property along with some free appetizers at the restaurant and access to the beach and pool for the afternoon while we waited for our lunch. So that we could “get a feel for things.”

(Photo-The Four Seasons)

That little fib will get you 8 hours of entertainment like a King! We spent this day at the Four Seasons wandering this empty perfect beach. Swimming pools and lounge chairs for the using and had a 5 star meal all for about $25! If that’s not livin the dream I don’t know what is!

Between the Four Seasons, The Tanjung Rhu and the Andaman, I would have to say the service and experience crashing the Four Seasons was definitely the best. (As it should be for a room starting at $800 per night!) But the food and cocktail prices at the Andaman were number one by far! We were having mixed drinks here for the same price as they are in town at the local bars!

Tanjung Rhu is also the name of the area where some of these resorts are. There is a really good public beach here as well. And do your self a favor a skip Black Sand beach. It is not even worth the 30 minutes of circles you will be driving to try to find it. I have been there twice now and both times I wondered why I even went.

 

Getting to and from-

You can fly into Langkawi or if traveling by land as I was you can arrange a boat from Penang. That boat was full so I took the free ferry to the mainland and took a bus north to Kuala Kedah. From there I took the 1 hour 45 min ferry boat to Langkawi. This is by far the cheapest way. I think I saved about $20 going this route and it was only an extra hour.

From Langkawi I took the ferry boat to Koh Lipe which is not that long of a trip for the nearly $30 I paid but it was the only way. The also take your passport in Malaysia and do not give it back to you until it is stamped in Thailand. So prepare for an hour of shitting your pants thinking your passport is not going to come back. It will. And also be sure if you are traveling to Koh Lipe to get a bottle of your favorite booze at the Duty Free port in Langkawi. Koh Lipe is expensive!

Where to stay-

If youre on a budget you can find cheaper places in the town but for me Tubotel was as good as it gets for $11 per night including a great breakfast and AC. They also have a cheap laundry service if you’re in need of clean clothes.

Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Malaysia is the capital city of the state of Penang. It is also the second largest city in Malaysia. Georgetown was established by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786 and was one of the first British settlements in South East Asia. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was occupied by the Japanese during WWll before being reclaimed by the British at the end of the war. The Malaya attained independence from Britain in 1957.

Georgetown Malaysia has to be one of my favorite towns that I have been in Asia! Just for every day living. There is no amazing waterfalls or world class beaches but this place is not to be missed!

Many come for the street art that fills back alley ways and sides of coffee shops. I was no different, that was what had brought me to Georgetown for two days. The brilliant hostels, good wifi and amazing food is what kept me there for almost two weeks!

(this piece is one block behind Antarabangsa)

I flew the hour flight into Georgetown from Singapore via Air Asia. From the airport you can exit the terminal and out front there is a bus stop. From here you can take the 141 bus that will take you to Georgetown. It is about an hour bus ride from the terminal, I don’t remember the exact price, I just know it was not much and they do not give change! So if all you have is a big bill and want to get on that bus, it just turned into a $20 bus ride.

The bus will drop you off at Komtar terminal which is next to the Komtar mall on the outside of downtown Georgetown.

I booked two nights at the Container Hotel in a dorm for 31 ringgit ($7) per night. This place is brilliant if you value comfort over the party. Pod dorms with your own light, plug and a table that folds down with a mirror behind it. Big locker space under the bed and amazing wifi. There is no breakfast included but there is three brilliant coffee shop/bakeries within a block of the hostel. (I don’t know why but the rate is much better per night on booking.com instead of hostelworld.com)

The China house is the oldest Cafe in Georgetown. It is made up of three separate restaurants in one long skinny building. The cafe in the front has about 20 different cakes on display at all times and really good coffee and tea.

The Black Kettle is one of my favorite places in Georgetown if you want a big breakfast. (Hangover breakfast) They have french toast out of this world! Big sliced French toast with chocolate spread between, strawberries, almond slices and lychee on top and corn flakes on top. Dry chocolate crumbs and a scoop of ice cream, a plate of bacon and a latte. If you are still singing the blues after that then you need to re evaluate y0ur drinking.

Lavish is another cafe that is worth checking out. More of a French bakery with a good coffee and tea selection and a case full of fresh breads and pastries. And when you have a sweet tooth they make amazing shakes! About 8 different choices and every one looks like a home run!

As for dinner there is only one place that you need to know about and that is Kaptain’s. It is on the outside of Little India on Chulia Street and they have the best Indian food that I have ever had in my life! One of the best meals I have had in a long time anywhere for that matter. The Tandoori chicken and nan set is unbelievable. It comes with three different sauces, a lime and I get a side of rice to go with it. There is always a short wait after about 7pm so I always try to get there before then. Trust me kids you will not regret it!

As for the Street Art most of it is on or near Armani street. Many of the pieces were commissioned by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. And many of these pieces are deteriorating due to the weather and time.  I would reccomend downloading the app Maps.Me. Most of these pieces are on the map with a star next to them.

(this piece is in the ally on Chulia Street near the docks across the street from the Container Hotel)

(this piece is on Armenian Street near the end)

I just happened to be in Penang for the start of the Chinese New Years. Streets lined with Chinese lanterns and decorations. Georgetown is made up of almost half Chinese people so this is as good a place as any to celebrate!

If you happened to be in Penang during the Chinese New Year you must make it to Kek Lok Si for the lighting ceremony of the temple. It is unbelievable! For 30 days this entire temple is light up at night to celebrate. They gave Clark Griswold a run for his money for sure! There is almost not one part of the temple that isn’t decorated or wrapped with strands in this sea of lights.

There is a few beaches on this island but unless you are on a short trip I would suggest you just hold off until Langkawi. You can rent a scooter for 35 ringgit per day ($8) and you can take the 40 minute ride to the other side of the island where the Hard Rock and a few other resorts are. There is a beach and a National Park where you can take the hour hike to Monkey Beach. It looks to have been once just a fishing village but tourism is taking the shores over.

Where to stay-

Container Hotel- 31 ringgit per night. ($7)

Food-

Kaptain, The Black Kettle, Lavish, The China House

Booze-

Alcohol in quite expensive in Georgetown. The cheapest beer by far is found at Antarabangsa. Its a small store with coolers full of beer and plastic chairs out front. You will not find a cheaper beer on this island.

Gym-

There is a gym across from Komtar Mall called 24-M. It is 18 ringgit ($4) per day and that includes a protein shake. Weekly rates are a bit cheaper.

Singapore

Singapore

The little red dot as they call it is the only island city-state in the world. Stamford Raffles founded colonial Singapore in 1819 as a trading post of the East India Company. During WW2 Singapore was occupied by Japan. In 1963 it gained independence from Britain and in 65 became a sovereign nation. Now it is one of the biggest financial hubs of the world!

As the flight was descending a recording came on to remind everyone that drug trafficking in Singapore is a mandatory death sentence. So I figured I should read up on other laws I might want to know about. Here is what I came up with. It is illegal to smoke in public, not flushing the toilet will run you $150 and spitting gets you cool $1000 fine. If you get caught selling gum it’s 2 years in jail! Oh yea and if you get caught singing in public you can go to jail for up to 3 years! I did most of those things before I read the rules of fight club.

But with that said Singapore is the cleanest place I have ever been in my life! Singapore is the most Technology ready nation, city with best investment potential, second-most competitive country, third largest foreign exchange market, third largest financial center, third largest oil refining and trading center, and the second busiest container port in the world! It is also known as a tax haven..

After arriving to “The best airport in the world” I did a lap around to check it out. I had been hearing about how great this airport is for years. Massage parlors, free wifi, fine foods, lots of shopping, there is foot massage machines at every terminal for free! There is charging ports where you can charge your device for free and there is lockers so you can safely store and charge your phone while you walk around the terminal! There is a butterfly garden, a waterfall, two movie theaters and even snooze lounges to sleep in for free! The bathrooms have a full time attendant and they are spotless. And you can’t walk far without seeing smiling employees waiting ready to help you get where you need to go.

My other immediate favorite thing about Singapore was the public transportation system. Most airports that I land in are out in the middle of a field on the outside of town and it is usually a $20 taxi ride to get to the city. In Singapore you can take the tram from the terminal to the Mass Rapid Transit (train). After a few transfers the MRT train took me from the airport to China town for about $2.30.

I booked two nights at the Bohemian Chic Hostel that goes for $23-$28 a night. This is the most money I have ever paid for a nights stay at a hostel in my years of traveling but I have to say it was worth it! I booked the cheaper bed option but they upgraded me to the pod for free. I asked why and they said Chinese New Years. In the past any asian counties that I had been that celebrated Chinese New Years, the price usually doubles or triples and I ask why and the only response is Chinese New Years. My luck had changed. The bunks were pods with your own charging ports, lights, curtain for privacy and your own flat screen tv with internet access and free movies! It was insane!

Soon after arriving I asked what I needed to see in my three days in Singapore and ofcoure the first suggestion was the Garden By the Bay light show. I had about an hour to get there before the show started. I locked up my bags and hit the street! And that was when I began to realize how under dressed I was and how fancy Singapore is. Chinatown is right outside of the financial district and that was where I had to walk to get to see the Garden. The streets were full of men wearing slacks and button up shirts with dress shoes, women wearing gold LV belt buckles on their dress suits. Local people from every part of the world and they all seemed to have one thing in common. Lots of people in work clothes surrounding tables at pubs on the side of the streets with a pint of beer or a cocktail in their hands. I looked down at my dirty shorts and tank top with flip flops on and knew I was a shoes and clean shorts kinda town.

I walked to mile and a half or so to the Marina Bay Sands Resort and followed the signs to the Garden By the Bay. Giant treelike sculptures surrounded by plants and walkways, ponds and sculptures. I was ready to get that epic photo I had been seeing on Instagram. I have been wanting to see this place since they built it! Lights flashing, music playing, the trees turning different colors to the base of the song with an African safari theme. Light shows are daily at 7:45 and 8:45 and it is free to watch.

You can pay $13 and walk the catwalks between the trees during the show. If you wait a bit after the light show is over, the trees are lit up like the photo above for an hour or so and that is prime time to take your photographs. The grounds are pretty quiet by this point. By 9:30 I had the place to myself. As I was leaving I set up to take a long exposure shot over this bridge because I wanted to get a trail of headlights from the cars and the craziest coincidence ever happened. There was no rain, clouds, thunder or lighting that whole night but I got this photo!

After leaving the Garden by the Bay I walked thought Marina Bay Sands and followed a bridge over the road to the Marina Bay Mall. It might have been the fanciest mall I have ever been to! Gucci, Jimi Choo, Armani, Dior. Every designer that was anyone was all here under one roof.

If you loose your energy looking at $10,000 purses maybe you can stop by the pastry shop and have a slice of $15 unicorn cake.

As I was leaving out of the back of the mall to get some photos over the bay I noticed many people sitting on benches and a few minutes later a water show started over the bay. Music, lights, water and bubbles coming from every side! This was the second show that I saw tonight and I didn’t spend a dime.

The next morning I woke up for smiley face toast at and cereal at the hostel and decided that today was the day that I was going to see the pool at the Marina Bay Sands. The building itself is the brainchild of architecture by Moshe Safdie built of three giant columns that hold up the top floor observations deck, pool and restaurants. You can either pay $23 for the entrance to the observation deck orrr you can walk around the corner and pay $20 to enter the bar on the 57th floor rooftop and your receipt is good towards your purchase at the bar. Sooo  you get the same view but better because you get the view of the infinity pool, its 3 dollars cheaper and if comes with a cocktail? Ok you twisted my arm.

For me I went with a Grey Goose pomegranate infused cocktail with a twist. After the service charge and the tax it ran me a cool $28 but for a view like this you gotta pay to play!

I have been known for a lot of things in my life but one cocktail isnt one of the things. If you’re like me and one wasn’t enough there is another bar and restaurant at the other end of the observation area that has $20 beers and a view over the coastline.

If you would like another amazing view go to the city go to Level 33. It is the worlds highest brewery! A beer here will set you back about $15 but this is the view over the bay. That is the Marina Bay Sands on the right and the Ferris wheel in the back.

It doesnt matter how you go about its, there is no cheap way to drink alcohol in Singapore. I tried everything! Even if you happen to find a 7-11, a can of beer will cost you $4 to $5. At most hotels and pubs a beer will run you $9-$15!

On my last free day in Singapore I woke up with a $150 hang over and decided to explore China Town while it was all decorated for Chinese New Years. The Year of the Rooster they tell me. The streets where lined with red lanterns and banners and a giant rooster all lit up on the median of the road.

I took the MRT from China town to Little India to wander a bit. I figure while I am here I might as well check out Sim Lim Square. A 5 story mall filled with only consumer electronics. Almost every store had camera equipment! It was insane and I was loving it. Anything that you could possibly need for you camera, computer or cellphone can be found here at the best prices in Singapore. After a little camera lens window shopping I walked though the streets of Little India. I have not been to India India but I have to assume it is very similar to what I was in Little India. The smell of cooking spices and fresh flowers on the street. The music was loud and I was really digging it!

People buy the flowers, milk and coconuts as an offering to their God when they visit the temples. You can usually buy any offerings within a short distance of the temple.

I have now been to a few Indian neighborhoods in Asia and they are always so welcoming for me to come in and learn about their culture.

The following day I had a flight booked from Singapore to Penang, Malaysia. I really enjoyed my three days in Singapore. After traveling other parts of South East Asia I do have to say this is by far the most expensive of it all! Matter of fact I have spent less money in Manhattan then I did in Singapore but for a few days it is most definitely worth it!

(Side note I flew Air Asia from Singapore to Malaysia and upon booking the flight I paid the $70 for the last minute flight and I paid another $30 for my back pack. I made sure to pay for this as I booked my ticket because I knew that if you pay for baggage at the airport the price is usually double. I didn’t want to make this mistake again so I paid with my flight online but I did not keep the recipt or even a screen shot and upon arrival they had no record of my baggage being paid so I had no choice but to pay another $45 for my backpack to get on the plane. Don’t make this mistake and trust a computer. Screen shot everything! Good luck!)

Getting to and from-

From the airport your commute on the MRT will take you about 45 minutes to an hour and should cost no more then $3 depending on your destination. A taxi will take you about 30 minutes and cost about $30 with a lot less confusion.

Where to stay-

Bohemian Chic Hostel- $23-$28 a night. Toast, cereal, tea and coffee included. Great location!

What to eat-

There is “hawker stalls” near the MRT in China Town where you can get good cheap local food. The meat bone tea pork rib soup is awesome!

Malaysia

Borneo, Malaysia

Once one of the most diverse and wild places on earth! I have always thought the orangutan was a phenomenal creature and this was my chance to see one in the wild! There are only two places on earth that this can be done. Borneo or next door on the island of Sumatra. The population of Bornean Orangutans has now dropped to 45,000 and there are only about 6,300 left in the wild in Sumatra. I hate to even have to say that if I don’t see them now I may never have another chance..

I flew a short two hour from Manila in the Philippines to Kota Kinabalo, Malaysia. After spending a month speaking only English around mainly catholic Filipino people I was ready for things to get weird. Many people I met were a bit bored with this city but I loved it! Muslims, Buddhist, Catholics. Malay, Chinese, Indian. A bit of everything all wrapped up into one. I also forgot that they drive on the other side of the road in Malaysia. The steering wheel is on the opposite side of what I am used to as well.

I stayed at a great little hostel called the Masada Backpacker. The first hostel I have ever stayed at where they had a washing machine to wash your clothes for free! If you’re a backpacker like me, your mind was just blown!

I also found a fancy sushi joint in the mall with one of those sushi conveyer belts I hear about in Japan that deliver the food to your table. Always wanted to see one of these places and I got 24 pieces of sushi and a green tea for less then $5! Mind blown again right?

There is many night markets full of everything from shoes to jewelry to fresh sea food. Kota Kinabalu is a good walking city. Most everything you need can be gotten to on foot. I always felt safe walking around at night.

If you really feel like taking a hike you can walk to the City Mosque. It is a beautifully designed mosque on the outside of the city along the oceans coast. When I arrived I was not meeting the dress code in my shorts and t shirt so I went down the road and got my hands on some proper Muslim attire and walked back to pay a visit to the Mosque in style..

There is a look out point you can visit on your way back to town to have lunch overlooking the city and after that you have pretty much seen it all. Not to many attractions in KK. You can book a day tour from here to go see the Proboscis monkey (in the heading photo.) This island is the only place on earth that you can find this monkey! Part of that tour also includes taking a boat down a river to see the fireflies. After seeing the mosque and the monkeys I booked a bus to Sandakan for the next day.

On the six hour bus ride through the “jungle” it was full of mainly local people with a couple of British girls sitting near me. I heard them talking about how amazing it was to be surrounded by nothing but jungle for miles on every side. I had to inform them a bit about what was really going on. For the last 70  years the jungle has been being burned to the ground piece at a time to make way for palm oil! The homes of wild elephants, tigers, orangutans, probiscus monkeys and sun bears has been being destroyed at alarming rates!

They tell me that there is so much corruption that 80% of the logging is done illegally.

This was copied and pasted from a note I had in my phone from months back before I ever knew I was going to Borneo.

“One of the biggest crimes against humanity ever… Every day 300 football fields of rain forest are destroyed an hour to make way for Palm Oil. Indonesia is one of the largest producers of Palm Oil in the world. The largest wild fire on earth is happening right now! Over 100,000 fires have taken place in Indonesia and Malaysia in the last couple months. Orangutans are on track to be extinct in 5-10 years. Sumatran tigers will be extinct in 3! A third of all of the mammals in Indonesia and Malaysia are endangered.. The air quality is so poor they are canceling flights and even school! The smoke is literally such a crisis that people are dying because they cannot breathe! They are burning fields of the most beautiful hardwoods in the world along with burning tigers and Orangutans alive! Corrupt corporations like Nestle and Pepsi are 100% to blame for this catastrophe. Frito-lays and Pepsi isn’t food anyways fuck head! Palm oil is in half of everything so maybe you can’t just not use it but Pepsi products particularly use conflict palm oil. (Pepsi owns pretty much all of the junk food you eat.) Less then 300 Sumatra tigers remain in the wild because their homes are burned to make fucking Pepsi! Disgusting.” I wrote that in March. And yesterday I took a 7 hour bus ride through what once was one of the most amazing stretches of jungle in the world! And has since been burned to the ground and replaced with palm plantations. The whole ride I was sick to my stomach.

What a world we are living in. Nothing is safe if there is a few dollars on the other side.

So a few hours later I arrived to the town of Sandakan. In the first half of the 1900’s the British occupied Borneo until 1944 when the Japanese occupied the area. They bombed the city until it was completely destroyed because the Japanese wanted to bay in front of the town as a port for ships because it was so secluded. The town was left in ruins for years until it was rebuild later to be a main port of export for oil, tobacco, coffee, timber and fish.

Sandakan is the jump off spot for expititions to see elephant, orangutan, sun bears and proboscis monkeys in the wild. There are three day river tour that can be arranged here. There is also some rehabilitation centers like … where you can come visit the orangutan in its natural habitat. There is no walls here, the orangutans are free to come and go as they please. But some do tend to come back every day for a feeding of coconuts in the morning. This gal walked passed me as I was leaving and I was so excited that I focused on the background on accident.

Near here is a center as well that you can see sun bears in the jungle.

After my second day in Sandakan I was talking to the owners boyfriend of the Sandakan Backpackpackers where I was staying. I was asking him what else there was to do near there and he told me about Turtle Island. An island an hour by boat from Sandakan east towards The Philippines where turtles hatch eggs and you can help the baby turtles get to the sea before eaten by predators. I asked him “isn’t that where the pirates are at?” He basically told me that is exactly where the pirates are at but the waters near there are protected by the Malaysian Navy and that they have Navy ships on the route to make sure there isn’t any problems. This was taken from the roof of the Hostel. Pirate waters or not it sure looked pretty from my seat!

Then I started reading about the waters near Sandikan on the internet and read about how Filipino pirates have actually come onto land and kidnapped local people from a restaurant and took them to sea for ransom. Then I went on to read about how they kidnap Malaysian fishermen in these same waters and hold them for ransom or kill them. And it was at this point that I decided that I didn’t need to see anything else in this town. That night I booked a flight the next day back to Kota Kinabalu. This was the only stretch of untouched jungle I could see the whole flight.

From KK you have a few options for traveling. You can take the ferry boat to Brunei or you can go by bus. If you take the bus you better have some room in your passport because you will acquire 9 yes NINE new passport stamps to go this route. Brunei is made up of two parts so you have to exit and enter borders 4 times which is 8 stamps. Then you get a stamp when you go from the state of Sabah into Sarawak. Once in Brunei I read that it is not designed for tourism. There isn’t much to do other then to see the Sultans Palace. I read that a few years ago he was one of the most wealthy people in the world. But from Brunei to the other end of Sabah looked on the map like a solid 12 hour or more bus ride to Kuching. And the flights were not cheap from Brunei to anywhere. So I decided to chalk the rest of Borneo up on the fact that I would spend a whole lot of money only for basically bragging rights. I figured I could save that money and go to Myanmar or India so the cheapest flight out of Kota Kinabalu I could get my hand on was to Singapore and I had not been there yet. Sooo next stop Singapore!

 

Getting to and from-

From Kota Kinabalu you can book cheap flight to Kuching, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Manilla. Cost- 43 ringgit ($9.50)

From Kota Kinabalu you can arrange a bus to Sandakan from the terminal that leaves every other hour. You can also book a bus at the terminal or a ferry boat to Brunei from the port. Cost is about 50 ringgit ($10.50) either way.

Where to stay-

Kota Kinabalu- The Masada Backpacker- 40 ringgit ($9) a night with AC, good wifi and breakfast included.

Sandakan- The Sandakan Backpacker is ok for a night or two. The staff is very nice. The rooftop view is the nicest thing in the whole city. Its 35 ringgit per night. If I could do that trip again I would stay at the hostel in Sepiloc for the same price that has a pool!

Philippines

Coron Island, Philippines

Coron is a quiet little island north of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. There are a dozen Japanese ship wrecks from WW2 scattered around Coron that made it one of Forbes top 10 dive spots in the world!

On 24 September 1944, a squadron of 24 Helldiver bombers burst out of the sky above Coron Bay in the Philippines, located the Japanese supply fleet hiding among the islands below, and proceeded to blow it apart. The dive bombers, escorted by 96 Hellcat fighters, some of which were also carrying bombs, had just 15 minutes to sink as many ships as possible before their fuel would get too low for them to complete the 340-mile return journey to their aircraft carrier. The attack was ruthlessly successful, and left a legacy that wouldn’t be discovered until years later when recreational diving came to this remote part of the Philippines.

To get from El Nido to Coron can be done a few ways. You can take a 4 day cruise with companies like Tao that sail you to islands and snorkel spots during the day and you camp on beaches at night. You can take the slow ferry which takes about 5 1/2 hours or you can take the speed boat and be there in about 3 hours. I chose the cheapest option, the slow ferry.

It ended up taking about 6 hours and costed 800 pesos ($16). The ferry has no windows so its open air and you can climb on the roof if you prefer to get a tan. The views along the way are spectacular!

About 50 islands make up the Calamian Archipelago in Northern Palawan that separates the South China Sea from the Sulu Sea. The ferry boat passes many of these islands on the way to Coron. People living on islands in paradise, living the dream and they don’t even know it!

When you arrive in Coron at the port there is many tricycles out front waiting. To get to the town where most of the hostels are at is not really close enough to walk. I got a Moto taxi ride for 80 pesos to the front door of my guest house. I stayed at Guapos Guest House for 600 pesos ($12) per night for a private room with a shared bath. I don’t know that you will get a better deal then this in Coron and after staying in so many hostels a little privacy was nice. I would book in advance if it is the high season because there was not many budget options. But this place was good and clean and was located close enough to walk to everything in the town. You can also book tours, shuttles and diving through the office here. This phot was taken near the port.

As for the town there isn’t a whole lot going on. A few streets for basic shopping, a couple restaurants a handful of bars and agencies to book your tours or diving. No Name Bar is the only late night spot that I could find. Some Irish lads and I found ourselves there until it closed. After the bars close there is a restaurant down near the port that is open all night and also serves beer.

You can rent a scooter in town for 24 hours for about 500 pesos ($10). There is a few beaches on the island as well as a couple waterfalls. Once you leave the town the island is beautiful! Green hills, rivers, wild cattle roaming the fields. It was very peaceful! I didn’t have much time to spend in Coron because my 30 day visa was about to expire. (If you are in the same position, the closest place to renew your Philippines Visa is either in Manila or Puerto Princessa so I suggest you renewing before going to Coron. I believe the price is around $60) But I did manage to explore a good bit of the island, see a few beaches and catch a basketball game.

The flowing day I met near the port and border a boat set to explore a bit of the sea. My first stop was the Coral Gardens. I have never seen this much live bright beautiful coral in one place before. There was hundreds of different kinds of tropical fish, giant urchins, star fish, and if you’re lucky they say you can see sharks here some times.

The next stop was Kayangan Lake. When you google Palawan you will keep seeing this epic photo from the top of a viewpoint overlooking a blue and green bay. (the photo at the top) This is done from the walk to the lake. The next photo was taken about half way up the hill to the viewpoint.

After soaking up some of that view there is a path leading down the other side to the lake. The lake is half fresh, half salt brackish water so swimming is a bit more difficult then you have been used to but if you swim out to the middle of the lake the views of all sides is amazing! I don’t know what kind of critters are in the water but some Pinner fish were following me around everywhere I went.

It seems to be some kind of tradition with the boat captains that ever time the boat stops he must cook something! No matter what tour I was on in Palawan I would always come back to the fellas having a feast!

The next stop was the twin lagoons. The entrance to the other lagoon is a 1 meter across tunnel behind that blue boat! The fella that found this little secret was really looking for something. But on the other side of that tunnel is another big beautiful lagoon with green water surrounded by giant gray rock face.

These local kids took their bamboo raft to the lagoon to check it out.

And the final stop was this WW2 Japanese ship wreck. The nose of the boat was about 15 feet under water and went down to about 40 foot deep. Many fish and a few divers exploring the deeper part of the wreck.

Getting to and from Coron-

-The ferry boat leaves every other day to and from El Nido.

-Flights depart daily to Busuanga from Manila via Philippine and Cebu Airlines.

Where to stay-

-Guapos Guest House- 500 pesos per night. ($10)

Where to eat-

-Blue Moon Resto bar. I had dinner here every night. On the main street. Good food and wifi

-For dessert check out Pedros Gelatos. Made from scratch every morning.

Philippines

Palawan, The Philippines

The last frontier as they call it. This was it! The reason I absolutely had to go to the Philippines. For the last two years Palawan was named the number one island in the world by Travel & Leisure and many other travel magazines. I had to come see what all of the fuss was about!

Getting around the Philippines is almost a science in itself. If you improperly plan your trip (as I did) you will end up spending a fortune on flights backtracking all over the country to get to your next destination. To get from Boracay to Palawan is only about 95 nautical miles. But to get those 95 miles was one of the most ridiculous days of traveling in my life!

I woke up and packed my bags like any other day, hopped onto the tricycle and headed to the port. After a short ferry ride and I was to the mainland. That was followed by a 2 hour mini bus ride to Kalibo. (There is a much closer airport but the bus ride saves you a cool $75) From Kalibo I had to fly to Manilla for a 7 hour layover. The international terminal in Manilla are amazing! The domestic terminal is not so pretty. There is not much to do, the food choices are burnt pizza or pot noodles. I made the best of it and walked laps around the waiting room and watched the Chicago Bulls game on the television with some local guys. Basketball is kinda a big deal in the Philippines. I was then notified that my flight was delayed an hour. Its pretty standard in Asia. I don’t think I have had a flight leave on time yet. That hour went by and we started to board the plane.

After we all loaded the plane they then informed us that we would be delayed again because of runway traffic. Another 45 minutes later the captain came on the intercom to say those three magic words. Prepare for takeoff. After about 45 minutes in the air we began our decent for what seemed to be our landing. Another hour of the plane jerking side to side and the engine jets boosting and then not making noise I knew something was NOT right. The plane at one point was nose up in the air and you could just feel it float in the air. After two more unsuccessful attempts to land the captain gets on the intercom and tells everyone that the weather was to bad in Puerto Princessa and that we would be returning to Manilla!

By this point I thought I was going to have an actual heart attack! We turned back and half way to Manila he turned off the autopilot and we flew the next 30 minutes at the hands of Mr. Captain. The planes wings turning side to side for the rest of the flight. At this point I came to terms and realized that this guy had absolutely no clue what he was doing. After thirty minutes of this nonsense and the plane dropped to the runway like a skid of bricks and screeched to a stop. Everyone on the plane got up to get their bags and I needed to figure where I would sleep that night now that I was back in Manilla again. The stewardess advised us that they wouldn’t let anyone off of the plane. As you would expect that went over very well with the people on the plane.

A guy sitting next to me was speaking English to someone on the phone in Puerto Princessa and they said that not only was there no weather but there wasn’t even any wind. Another 30 minutes went by and they announced that the flight crew would be giving us some food. Their idea of food and mine are a bit different but they brought us all some kind of chocolate snack cake and water. Another 30 minutes passed and I see the pilots and the entire flight crew leave the plane. As the pilot was leaving I said “hey buddy, first time?” He just put his head down and walked off the plane. I got a chuckle out of that. A few minutes later an entire new flight crew and captains entered the plane and announced that we were going to Puerto Princessa. At this point all I could do is laugh hysterically in disbelief.

Another hour went by and we successfully landed to a beautiful summer night in Puerto Princessa. So 16 hours and $300 later after Air Asia put my life in jeopardy for what should have been a 90 mile boat ride (that doesnt exist) I finally arrived. This want going to be my last run with problems from Air Asia. And they are supposed to be the “good” airline! But it was in the past. They say the adventure getting there is half of the fun. That day I had enough adventure..

That night I stayed at the Airportside Inn. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clean, it was quite run down but it was close to the airport and it was almost 12pm at night at this point. I had a 12 person dorm room all to myself with no locker so I spent most of the night waking up to see if my computer and camera were still next to me. I have a cable lock that I used to locked my small bag to my arm. The next morning I took a tricycle to the bus terminal to get the mini bus to El Nido.

It is a 5 hour ride in a cramped mini van local people trying to get across the island. Some of them transporting huge sacks of rice and spices. One girl had a lap full of picture frames. The AC worked and to me that was all that mattered. English is one of the recognized languages in the Philippines but you will see that the further you get from the cities the less and less English was spoken.

El Nido itself is a very small populated town on the ocean. The magic of El Nido happens in the sea! I stayed one night in the town at the Austria’s Guest House to get a feel for the town. Its a nice place a block from the beach and only cost 500 pesos ($10) for a private room with a fan. There is also a legit fruit and pancake breakfast with coffee included and a restaurant on the property to purchase lunch or dinner.

I spent the next three days aboard the Palawan Secret Cruise boat. This was a bit on the pricey side of a backpacker budget but it was really worth it!

The cruise included three meals a day, a tour every morning and afternoon, and a sunset cocktail. I slept in a bunkbed on the sea overlooking Snake Island. There was kayaks to use and a beach bar on land at the end of the sand bar of Snake Island. Other then that we were alone in paradise! During the day a few tour boats would visit the bay to see the island.

The first day we took a tour to snorkel some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life! I saw sea horses, parrot fish and my first puppy fish.

The evenings were filled with fresh seafood and cocktails with my new friends.

The morning we woke up to breakfast and a tour of the big and small lagoons. As we entered the small lagoon local guys brought us out kayaks to rent for —- pesos. Inside of the lagoon was truly a sight to see! Rock walls on both sides. Deep green waters underneath of me.

As I was paddling into the lagoon I started to see jellyfish. Big ones and lots of them! They looked exactly like the stingless jellyfish I had seen in the photos. The only place on earth I am aware of these things exists was in a lake in the island of Palau and on the island of Surigao in the Philippines. The lagoon in Surigao had recently been shut down because the population of jellies was almost completely gone in a few short years by tourists swimming in the lagoon. So maybe these guys migrated from there. I bet there was 100 of them I saw swimming near the surface. It was unbelievable!

When I reached back to the boat a spoke to the captain about what I saw. He said he had been to this lagoon many many times and he had never heard about any jellyfish there so I felt pretty lucky!

After arriving at the large lagoon if you arrive at low tide you have to walk down a valley of rocky shallow water to get to the lagoon. I swam in with a snorkel and paddled out to the middle of the lagoon. All was well until I put on my mask and looked down. I couldn’t see the bottom, not a fish, not a thing! Just the dark abyss. It was a really erie feeling!

I wrapped an amazing day up with a Coconut delivered to the boat by a fella on a raft for 50 pesos.

The following day we took a tour of Papaya beach. If you book tours on the mainland they all leave at the same time and they all arrive at the same time. The beauty of staying on this cruise was they were determined to get me to see the sights before anyone else arrived! We had the beach to ourselves.

 

I even got a game in with some local kids working on our boat. Im not real sure what the rules were but everyone got two shots and you didn’t have to dribble unless you wanted to.

There was one bamboo hut that someone lived in and another that they sold coconuts and rum out of. Two bucks for a coconut full of rum? Ill take two.

Im not sure if there was a school somewhere in the jungle or if the kids that lived in that hut had to take this boat to school but what a way to grow up!

Because coconut.

I would highly recommend staying on this boat for a couple nights when you make it to el Nido! It was the highlight of my Palawan trip!

After returning to land I spent one night again at the Austria’s Guest House and booked my ferry boat to Coron. From there I woke up at 5 am for the 3.5 hour speed ferry to Coron.

It’s not often you get the pleasure of seeing the real paradises of the world before they have been taken over by hotels and bars. I spoke to one gentlemen from the USA that had been living there for 13 years. He told me about a time when there was no streets and almost no travelers because no one knew about the place. Tourism will in time kill a lot of the beauty of El Nido but if you get the chance you must see it for yourself..

Getting in and out-
-Flight to Puerto Princessa from Manila plus 5 hour mini bus ride. From Boracay I paid almost $300 and spent a whole day traveling to get to Palawan. Don’t do what I did! Plan your flights properly.
-Flight to El Nido from Manila.

Where to stay-
Austria’s Guest house- $10 per night
Palawan Secret Cruises- $130 per night.

Where to eat-
Art bar- Really good food a bit on the pricey side and the best wifi in El Nido. (I promise you will pay $1 more for a chicken with good wifi)

Philippines

Boracay, The Philippines

Condé Nast Traveler readers choice recently named Boracay the number one Island in the world! To be completely honest with you in my opinion it is pretty far fetched but I have a few photos from there that say differently. I arrived to Boracay before Christmas and was just looking for a good beach to relax on and celebrate the holidays. Boracay is a place that you can spend as little or as much money as you would like. If you aren’t into partying then you better do your homework about where you are going to stay because this place knows how to do that very well! Boracay also has no shortage of things to do. From diving, snorkeling, helmet diving, sailing, day trips, island hopping, parasailing, sunset cruises to cliff jumping, there is something for everyone.

After arriving to Caticlan from Cebu upon arrival to the airport I grabbed my backpack and got onto maps.me (which I must say has completely changed the travel game! Its an offline map that operated from your location. It is completely brilliant!) So there was tricycles (Moto taxis) outside of the terminal picking up people to take them to the ferry terminal for Boracay. But after looking at my map I saw that the terminal was only a 5 minute walk away. When you arrive to the ferry terminal you have to pay three separate fees that add up to about 150 Pesos ($3) to board the ferry boat. A 10 minute boat ride will take you to the port in Boracay. From there you have to take a tricycle to your “Station.”

The beach area in Boracay is split into 3 stations. Station 1 is a bit quieter with ocean front hotels and guest houses. There is also many good higher end restaurants and bars here. Station 2 is where the party is at. This is also where you will find most of the hostels and the walking streets. And Station 3 is probably the most relaxed of the three. I stayed at the Boracay Backpacker which is right on the edge of station 1. It is close enough to the party and there is a bar on the property but you can also rest in the evening. It is a minute walk from the beach and lots of good restaurants. The walls, the sheets, the towels, everything is white. There is a tiki bar in the courtyard and bamboo cabanas to relax on.

(Photo- Hostelworld.com)

White sand beach is the main Beach in Boracay. It is the finest example of paradise lost I have ever seen. You can tell that 20 years ago this was one the best beaches in the world! One of those beaches where the palm trees go all the way up to the sea and thats followed by white sand and amazing aqua water. If you happen to walk the beach at sunrise while everyone is still sleeping you can get a good look at what it once was.

By 9:00 in the morning the entire beach is full of dive tanks and boats loaded full of people going to take day trips and soon after comes the guys selling sunglasses and tours. My first stroll down that beach I remember thinking man, I could live here. I think a day or two later that opinion had faded but at the right time of day it is still a sight to see.

I spoke to some local women about the island and they told me how sad it makes them because as children, they knew everyone on the island and it truly was paradise but now many businesses are owned by people from other counters and with that came big price increases. And now they do not know their neighbors. But there is still many amazing places on Boracay to visit!

After a good rain if you take the 5 minute walk to cross the island, on the other side Bulabog beach is good when the crouds aren’t there. When the weather is good the entire beach will be filled with kite surfers and wind surfers as far as you can see. This beach also has many hostels and hotels lining it but most are geared towards the wind surfing.

In my opinion the best beach I saw was Diniwid Beach. While I just so happened to be in Boracay I was watching a video of the top 10 bluest waters in the world and Diniwid Beach was on that list! A few minutes after watching that video I packed up my camera and started walking down white beach to do some exploring. After you walk north past the stations is when Boracay starts getting good! A beautiful beach and a few resorts in the distance. You will walk past the occasional tiki bar with a few locals and tourists hanging out. At the end when it looks like you can not go any farther follow the path and you will walk around a cliff face to a small shore of colorful fishing boats. Another 10 minute walk and you will arrive to Diniwid Beach. Women drinking tropical cocktails sun bathing on a white sand. The water is so turquoise its hard to believe its real.

If you keep walking past the beach and follow the trail will lead you to the Spider House. This has to be the coolest bar on the island! Levels of seating over looking the ocean, a giant raft in the sea to swim out to and a plank for diving. The Spider house is one of the best places in Boracay! You can grab lunch or a beer, take a swim, lay in the sun and watch the sun.

I had to move hostels before New Years for three nights because the Boracay Backpackers was booked. I moved to the W Hostel and I have to say, this was one of the best hostels I have stayed in many years of traveling! Pod bunks with curtains, your own plug and light, big lockers, All day AC, hot breakfast and good wifi. Those things might not mean much if you’re reading this and you aren’t a backpacker but to us those things mean the world! By this point I had been in Boracay for 8 days, which for me was about 5 days to many already but the flight prices were outrageous to leave because of the holidays. And after talking to people they told me that Boracay was the best New Years party in the Philippines so whats a few more days. New Years Eve was a blast though! I joined some friends in a pub crawl of three bars, two night clubs and a firework grand finally on the beach! It was one of the biggest firework displays I have ever seen! It went on for a solid hour from a pier, the shore and a barge. The whole sky was full of explosions in every color.

 

 

Getting to and from-

-From Caticlan it is just a short ferry boat ride away.

-From Kalibo you must take the bus 2.5 hours to the port in Caticlan and then the ferry. There is mini busses and taxis at the port when returning to Kalibo. The mini bus does not leave until it is full so if you are in a hurry the taxi is the way to go.

Where to stay- 

-Boracay Backpacker- 500 pesos per night ($10) Prices here seem to change by the day.

-The W Hostel- 700 pesos per night. ($14) I believe this is a fixed price.

What to eat- 

-Army Navy- Amazing hang over food. Burritos, steak sandwiches, burgers and french fries. Its owned buy a guy from the USA so you know its good and terrible for you.

-Cheaper local food, go to Munchies on Bulabog street. Good food fast and cheap.

-For cheap booze go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. Basically a store in the back to buy convenient store priced booze and seating in the front to drink it! (make sure you go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. The other one is a dive bar down the street)

Philippines Travel

Cebu, The Philippines

I have had a strong urge to visit the Philippines ever since the first time I saw a Photo of the Kawasan Falls. Every photo I see of the Philippines from fellow photographers looks like a post card from paradise! Recently Condé Nast Traveler recently ranked Cebu the number 5 island in the world!

I had a few concerns about traveling to the Philippines though. Muslim extremists in the south, Pirates on the seas and the new President that recently took office. The first two we will get to later. As for President Rodrigo Duterte, he wooed the people with promises of cleaning the streets of drug dealers and crime. He took office on June 30th and boy did he keep his promise!

By the time I had left for the Philippines there was reports of over 2,000 people killed from Dutertes “War on Drugs.” A few weeks later those reports were over 6,000 people dead. 2,000 by government officials and the rest by unknown gunmen in return for a bounty. The stories I was hearing sounded less like the present time and more like something from a John Wayne movie!

Here is a link to Time Magazines recent article. http://time.com/philippines-drug-war/

So I had a lot of thinking to do but the more that people told me I may not want to go there right now, the stronger my curiosity got! You can ask my mother, I was never one for listening. I do not use drugs, but me being a guy with tattoos and piercings, I was concerned that I might end up on the wrong end of this war. And then I looked at a few more photos of Kawasan Falls and that was all I needed to know that I had a flight to book.

That week waiting for the flight had come and gone and 30 hours of traveling later I had landed in Cebu. I grabbed my backpack and left the airport looking for the cheapest most raggedy taxi I could find. There were fresh clean white ones all lined up in front of the airport with men in proper uniforms. I knew that wasn’t for me. Then I saw local people around the corner standing in a line to get into these beat up yellow Nissan sentras. After waiting my turn I hailed my cab to the Pacific Cebu Resort on the Island of Mactan. The price seemed more than fair but of course I hired the one person in the country that doesn’t speak English! I got a laugh out of that.

I knew traveling to the other side of earth was going to take a toll on my clock so I booked a nice room for the first two nights in Asia. The first day by 3pm I couldn’t function any more. I rested my eyes for a moment and the next thing I knew it was 1am! After stalking the internet for photo ideas in the Philippines until sun rise I went to the onsite 24 hour convenient store and bought a few beers. The staff didn’t know what to do when I walked into the breakfast with 2 bottles of San Miguel in my hand.

This resort is definitely not the nicest I have ever stayed but the ground are full of views. Three pools, one of which is used for dive training, a small beach, tennis courts and a small gym. The breakfast though.. Now that was incredible! Everything you could ever want in a breakfast and many things that had no business being there but it was impressive. A table of food fit for a king! In front of the restaurant there is also a long pier that you can walk. At low tide there are local people scavenging the shores looking for anything that they can sell. “Hello sir. Would you like some souvenirs?” This gentleman asked me. That was one of the first things I realized about the people of the Philippines. They all seemed so polite! Even if they were trying to talk you into something they knew you didn’t want they were polite and did it with a smile. I also remember thinking this was one of the only places in the world that if you didn’t want something, no meant no. They give you a smile and let you go about your day. This fella spent hours sitting on the pier cleaning shells to sell. We talked about his shark tattoo and I showed him my shark tattoo. He told me anything that I needed from snorkeling, to boat tours, to advise, he was my man.

After a few days of relaxing by the pool it was time for the real journey to begin. I learned two lessons very quickly after leaving that resort. One don’t ever travel in Cebu City anywhere that you don’t have to during business hours! It took me about 2 hours to get three miles from Mactan, over the bridge to the mainland. The sun beating on my face the whole way to the bus terminal. And number two, just because you ask the taxi driver if he has a taxi meter does not mean that he is going to turn it on! A half hour into the trip I realized that the meter hadn’t changed. I asked what was wrong with the meter and he said it was broken. After refusing to pay the 500 peso he asked me for and tried to get out of the cab in traffic his tune changed real fast and we agreed on about half that. You always have to keep your eye on the cabbies. I think I have seen every single trick in the book done by these guys while traveling around the world. Its their job to make money for dinner and usually your job to keep them honest.

From the South Bus Terminal to my next stop of Boljoon, the ride from the city to the south of Cebu was about two hours. This was the first time traveling in almost 30 countries that I could sit on a bus with local people and have a conversation! That was really something special for me. I talked to a local girl about her growing up on a farm on the island south of Cebu called Negros. We talked about the local political situation, good places to hike and the mountains on her island. It was really nice to be able to travel a place and properly communicate with the local people. While we were talking, I showed the drivers helper a photo of my hostel and two hours later they dropped me off at the Noordzee Hostel. Now this place seemed less like a hostel and more like a resort! A swimming pool overlooking the ocean, cabanas on the shore, a restaurant bar with a view and even a koi pond.

The property had two armed guards on the grounds at all times which I thought was a bit much but hey safety first. That was my thought until I read about the travel advisory put out by the USA advising no one visit the cities of Dalaguete and Santanders. Advising against travel because of muslim extremist threats of kidnapping. I just so happened to be in between those two towns and I guess that explained the two armed guards at the hostel. But I walked these towns with my own two feet, got lunch and a haircut. Nothing seemed out of the norm and the people were exceptionally nice! Every person that I talked to about this travel advisory all seemed to know nothing about why it was issued and even the Philippine government asked for any evidence that there was a reason for concern. As for me I had no problems. I got a hair cut on a bucket in front of a chicken coupe on the side of the road for $1! Whats not to like about that.

From Noordzee Hostel you can organize your trip to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks. I have been chasing these majestic creatures for years. In South America I went to coastal towns hours out of my way just for the hopes that I could see one in person. I went to an island in Mexico that is a big part of their migration pattern during the mating season but of course I arrived a few weeks to late. So I figured this is one of the things that the Philippines is known for. I have to give it a try!

Oslob is only a 30 minute bus ride from the hostel and they drop you off right at the entrance. (Well they actually drop you off at the hotel next to the Whale Center and the hotel charges you 100 peso extra to do the exact same tour.) I left at 6am to make sure I beat the crowds of people I had earlier heard about. After arriving though I was really a bit disappointed at what I saw. They took me out in a boat about 30 meters from shore and there was another guy sitting on his boat dumping what I assume is some kind of plankton into the water. I did not feel good about it but I was already there so I jumped into the water and from there I have to be honest I was amazed.

There were five whale sharks swimming around me. They were so big and beautiful! One swam towards me with his mouth open and right when I thought my arm was going in, he turned away. This went on for about 20 minutes and then I looked to the shore and saw more and more people showing up. I really didn’t feel good about this at all. In my opinion any animal being fead by humans isn’t doing its job in the wild and this was no different. Though this was not a zoo, they do have the option to stop being so lazy and swim away any time they want! It just didn’t seem right. Then I went back to the hostel and read about how this is a terrible diet for the whale shark and it is going to cause reproductive issues for them. I also read that whats happening in Oslob is stopping the proper migration patterns for mating as well. I later found out about many other places in the Philippines that you have an excellent chance to see them in their natural habitat without doing more damage then good. The Miss Universe candidates went the there the day after I was and many were outraged at them for this as well.

From Boljoon I took the bus to Santander and switched to a bus going up the opposite coast for Moalboal. This town is a good starting point for many tour opportunities. Its a 45 minute tricycle ride to the Kawasan Falls, you can also do canyoneering here, the sardine run and there is also many good restaurants and bars in the vicinity. I stayed a few nights at Chief Mao Hostel. Nice beds, AC and a good breakfast. (Not included) It is also a 1 minute walk from the ocean.

After a long night of “exploring” all of the bars that the town had to offer until the early morning, on a few hours of sleep I woke up to go fetch a snorkel and mask. I rented one for 100 pesos ($2) for the day. I tried snorkeling a few spots off the shore with no sardines in site. Then I saw a local kid swimming and asked him where he was hiding all of the fish. He waved me to follow him. We walked a minute or two down the beach and he dove into the water. I followed him swim out about 10 meters as the earth began to drops off a giant cliff. As I swam out over the deep water I started to see the ocean light up like glitter!

Before I knew it I was completely surrounded by walls of sardines. They were everywhere! Local people said that a few years earlier they didn’t have the sardines in Moalboal. I don’t know where they come from but it truly was a site to see! If you have a bit more time and want the truly epic photograph you can go diving here directly from the shore and get a photo from underneath the sardines to get the true effect.

The next morning I was up early with one thing on my mind. The mighty Kawasan! And I really wanted to beat any crowds of people. I flagged a tricycle (rickshaw Moto taxi) and negotiated a price to take me to the Falls. They told me that 700 pesos ($14) was the standard rate to take me there and wait for the return trip but I talked him down to 500 pesos. Its amazing how far a smile and a couple of jokes will get you in the world. 45 minutes down the winding coast later and I arrived in a church parking lot. I didn’t know where to go so I just started walking down a path into the jungle. A beautiful green river lined the trail and a few bamboo huts with women selling fruit on the opposite side.

After about 15 minutes of walking I got to a little village and was starting to have my doubts if I was on the right track but it was so beautiful I wasn’t turning back.

Another five minutes around the bend and I started to hear the crash of water in the distance. Local kids with huge sacks of rice passed me and smiled. A few steps later and I arrived..

To be honest the falls themselves weren’t as big as I had imagined especially after already seeing some of the biggest in the world but I have NEVER witnessed water like this! There was just a few people here and most of them worked at the nearby restaurant. It was just me, this gal, a bamboo raft and the sound of the water crashing.

I don’t know how I got so lucky because I had heard stories of this place crawling with people but I just sat and admired the nature around me. This was what I came here for..

If you follow the trail on the left of the falls up you can get an unbelievable view from above!

After admiring the view from above for a while a police officer that was walking the grounds told me to follow the trail up another 15 minutes and there was another set of falls. I think lots of people come here and don’t know about the second falls. They also told me that if you have proper shoes another 20 minutes up a muddy trail there is a third set of falls that are meant to be really beautiful but I didn’t go that far.

Getting to and from-

Buses leave the south bus terminal every 30 minutes or less heading south to Santander. There is a bus also on the other side of the island that runs every 30 minutes. Prices depend on the pick up and drop off point. From Boljoon to Moalboal took about 2.5 hours. I took a mini bus from Moalboal to Cebu City and it dropped everyone off in Mactan. You can also take the public bus but takes about an hour longer.

Where to stay-

Boljoon- Noordzee Hostel- 500 Pesos ($10) Does not include breakfast but has great options to buy.

Moalboal- Cheif Mau Hostel- 400 Peso ($8) Also no breakfast but ala cart breakfast menu is good and cheap.

Mexico

Holbox, Mexico

The island paradise in Mexicos Yucatan you probably didn’t know existed.. This sleepy fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico is breeding grounds to pelicans, pink flamingos and whale sharks!

The village has dirt roads that allow no cars, only golf carts. There are no chain stores or franchises and most of the tourists seem to be from Mexico. Miles of dirt roads, empty beaches, lagoons and wildlife everywhere.

In the morning you will see local fisherman walking the streets on their way to work. Afternoons were spent on one of the many empty beaches. You can rent a golf cart for a couple hours to explore the ends of the islands. There is also a crocodile reserve you can visit.

Early morning you can also spot pink flamingos lining the beaches of the Gulf. On the west end of the island there is a cemetery worthy of the visit. If you follow the mangrove lined dirt roads 15 minutes past that you will find an amazing empty lagoon at Punta Bocontica. A beautiful stretch of white sand beach and teal green knee deep water.

Most evenings we had dinner at Et Voila. A Volkswagen bus near the town square that cooks steaks, chicken, sandwiches and motzarella stuffed japalinos. They were amazing! After dinner you can walk to the shores to see the bioluminescents in the ocean light up electric blue.

(Photo- mexiconewsnetwork.com)

If you plan your Holbox trip at the right time of year you can swim with the whale sharks!

(Photo-PuertoHolboxHotel)

Holbox was once a pirate pit stop and hang out on their way to Veracruz. Story goes Fidel Castro and Che Guavara had lunch on Holbox on April 25, 1953 before setting sail for Cuba to start the revolution.

This island has accommodations for every budget. From hostel beds to high end ocean front bungalows. There is also some pretty rad camp sites for the adventurist or budget backpacker.

This is the Mexico you have been looking for..

Getting to and from-

From Cancun or Playa take the ADO bus to Chiquilá. From there you can take the ferry to the island. There are two companies that run every half hour. Holbox Express is a much nicer vescel for the same price.

Where to eat-
La Tortilliria- Amazing chocolate pancakes, fresh fruit and pressed coffee.

El Hornito Argentino- Best Pizza I had in all of Central America!

Et Voila- The VW van asado joint very good.

Where to stay-

Golden Paradise Hotel- $45 per night. Amazing beds, private bath, refrigerator.

What to know-

-There is only two ATMs on the island and sometimes they are out of cash.

-There is only three times a day that the bus goes return to Cancun so plan your ferry accordingly.

-Whale shark season is from June to mid September.

Cuba Travel

Havana, Cuba

-When I asked travelers previously what they thought of Cuba the story was usually the same. The beaches are great, the food is terrible, the people are amazing and the rum is almost free..-

The second that you land in Cuba and step a foot into the customs line you feel like you have been transported into the 50s. Looking around at the dark cream walls with burgundy accent colors. Airport employees walk past with uniforms that look like they haven’t changed style in 50 years either. If you come from the states, Immigration will see your US passport and ask you if you would like them to stamp your passport. A lot of people think that because Obama visited Cuba that it’s open for travel. That is definitely not the case. You may travel to Cuba from the US now and not be considered a spy as you were previously if you have proper plans and documents. You can book a tour through an agency for thousands of dollars or you can go on the account that you are volunteering. If not you have to be there on educational purposes only. No wandering beaches and exploring the islands of Cuba. Wellllll that wasn’t going to work for me. The only other loop hole is to fly from Canada or Cancun. Which was my choice… Before leaving cancun I had a 2 hour delay. I messaged a friend that was in Havana at the airport on his way back and told him I had a two hour delay. He sent me this photo of Obama in Air Force One preparing for takeoff.

After exiting the airport I hired a cabby to take me to Old Havana in a 1955 Cadillac. The first thing that I learned is in Cuba unless you have a large travel budget you don’t stay in a hotel. You sleep in a Casa. A house that is usually divided into private rooms with a bathroom that you can rent for an average of $20-$35. The owner of the house sometimes sells beers and may offer to cook you meals for a small fee. After finding a Casa (at 11pm) we dropped off our bags and walked next door to a small one table restaurant where a Cuba gent was cleaning up. He offered to make us chicken and rice for dinner. After two hours of being in Havana I was sitting at a table with three girls traveling Cuba, me, the older gentlemen that owned the small resultant, his much younger women, the owner of the Casa, and a few security guys from a hotel down the street drinking rum talking about the history and the future of Cuba as if we knew each other for years! I was amazed at how quickly I was welcomed by the Cuban people.

It was a long night of talking history and discussing the new beginnings in the making. For a guy like myself, I have traveled all over the world. I have seen a lot of things, so it really does take a lot to get me worked up about something. But when I woke up and walked out of the Casa, I couldn’t believe where I was. Streets filled with Cuban people on foot walking around. Fruit and vegetable carts on the corner. I walked the streets as 50s Chevy Bel Airs and Ford Thunderbirds passed me.

I have lots of tattoos, have a beard, and walked the streets in a straw hat from Guatemala. It was no secret that I was not from Cuba. But the local people would walk up to me and ask me where I am from. After I said the USA they would shake my had. I had complete strangers give me hugs. One guy told me his president is no good. My president is very good. Obama coming to Cuba has given these people hope they haven’t had in many years! The Cuban people have had it pretty rough compared to today’s standard of living. One friend of mine I met in Havana told me that he has seen more change in Cuba in the last 7 months then his people have seen in the last 57 years! They just got access to Internet! It’s an interesting system. You walk to a park and pay a guy $3. He gives you a pull tab like a lottery ticket. One tab has your internet link and other has the password. And that will buy you one hour of Internet. Keeping in mind this is in a country where the basic salary is $30 USD per month.

I met another guy sitting on the river walk that asked me if he could practice his English with new. I was on the verge of passing out from not eating all day and had no water in the 100 degree heat but no problem I told him. Alex was his name and his English was about as terrible as my Spanish but we sat on the side of that River for over an hour. He told me that he worked at the oil refinery along the river in the distance. It was his day off so he takes the bus to the city to come to this place and get peace. He told me that he makes $30 per month and that has to feed himself and both of his retired parents and his younger siblings. He said that he will take a bit of his pay from time to time and buy a book. He has to read it very quickly because he then has to sell it on the black market to get the money back to buy food. He does the same with CDs. Alex decided two years ago that he wanted to learn English. So he bought a dictionary and for two years he taught himself English. Pretty impressive. He told me that the working man in Cuba is poor. And that the teachers might only make $50 a month and the doctor can make $60. But the cab driver on the other hand is rich! They can make a months salary of the average man multiple times in one day!

You must have a permit to work in tourism. Alex told me that he had been waiting for years in line for that permit. The truth is he will probably never get that dream server job he wants because the cards aren’t dealt that way now in Cuba. But we can both hope things will change for the people!

The people of Cuba are great. The culture is amazing! The music is everywhere. But the food really is terrible. They lack options, spices and flavor. So if you take one thing from this, let me tell you where to eat!

My first day in Havana I walked a few blocks from the Casa looking for food and ended up at Sloppy Joes. (Not to be confused with the Sloppy Joes in Key West) The bar that the Los Angeles Times called “One of the most famous bars of all time!” The bar opened in the 30s by immigrant Jose Garcia. During prohibition American tourists would come to Havana for the night life, gambling and the booze they couldn’t get in the states. It was visited by everyone from John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra. After the revolution in 1959 and the embargo from the United States denied US travelers. Sloppy Joes shut down soon after.. After a long renovation they recently reopened the bar back to its old glory!

 (Photographer unknown)

Bodeguita del Medio opened its doors in 1942. The walls are covered with signatures and quotes from people ever since. Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda and Ernest Hemingway all frequented the Bodeguita Del Medio. Hemingway wrote on the wall “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” They make claim to have invented the Mojito in this building in the 1942 soon after they opened..

La Floridita- It opened in 1817 with the name “La Piña de Plata”. (The Silver Pineapple) Over 100 years later, tourists from North America started frequenting the bar and convinced the owner to change the name to La Florida, which over time is now La Floridita. In 1914, an immigrant by the name of Constantino began tending bar at La Floridita and by 1918 he owned the bar. Constante as they call him was credited in the early 30s for inventing the frozen daiquiri. The bar became a school of highly skilled bartenders specializing in cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum. Today the traditions are still preserved by the disciples of this Mr. Constante. The bar was also frequented in the 1930’s by Ernest Hemingway who occupied a hotel room near by for years..

So you can possibly pay visit to the home of the sloppy joe, the mojito and the daquri all in one day!

My first night in Havana I asked what was a must see. An older gentlemen told me I must ride in a 57 Chevy, dance the tango and smoke a Cuban cigar. Pay a visit to the house of rum and Cuban tobacco pictured below.

I had plans to come to Havana no matter what while traveling this year. But when I was in Nicaragua I caught wind of the Rolling Stones coming to Cuba to play a free show! I actually skipped a large part of the Yucatan in Mexico just to make it for this concert. This was set to be the biggest concert in Cuba since the Revolution in 59! They denied the biggest acts in the world such as the Beetles and Elvis and the rest of the invasion of Rock and Roll.

I read about history every day. I write about it as often as I can but to see it happen in front of my eyes was something else. Forget about witnessing history for a second. To see the look on these peoples faces. No matter if they were 15 or 50 to be with them to see the first concert of their lives was pretty cool. The Rolling Stones have played a million shows but I promise never one like this. One show, 5 hunnnnndred thousand people, and not one single fight, drunk guy sleeping on the grass and probably the first Rolling Stones concert in history where there was no alcohol or pot smoke in the air. Only Cuban cigars. I’m just glad to see Keith Richards is 153 years old and still had girls pulling their hair out..

The following day I took a city tour on a double decker bus around Havana. In previous days I could see whenever I would talk about the government people seemed to get a bit uncomfortable. No one wants to talk much about old history. I saw this first hand on the city tour. I thought they would take me to sights that Che Guavara made grand speeches and show me places where Batista was overthrown. I saw no such thing on the city tour. They told me where the hospital and supermarkets were. I did get a look at the monument of Che and Fidel and saw the newly opened US embassy though!

Old Havana is definitely worth a visit. You can walk from the capital through Central Park to La Floridita to the walking street. Lots of little shops and restaurants. If you see a churro cart do yourself a favor and stop..
At the end near the river is the fort and Old Havana. People selling amazing political posters and books. Some art and old trinkets.

After a few days of wandering Havana I hired a cab to take me for the two and a half hour drive down the coast of Cuba to the beach town of Varadero.

Varadero is a nice change of pace from Havana. People are a bit more pleasant and much less pushy as they are in Havana. Either way the Cuban people are expressly welcoming and helpful! I was walking down the streets of Varadero looking for a Casa to rest my head. A women stopped me and told me that her place was full. She then called every friend she had for nearly 25 minutes until she found me a place to stay. I told her I was from the United States and she gave me a hug and told me welcome!

I have seen beaches in North and South America as well as Asia and I have to believe the beaches of Cuba will give the best beaches anywhere a run for their money! The water was perfect!

If you have plans to travel to Cuba there are a few things you should know. ATM machines are few and far between and your credit or debit card doesn’t work in cuba. You need to bring cash! Also at this moment US dollars have a bad exchange rate. The Euro is better and the Mexican peso is much better then the other currency’s. Also while in Cuba do not exchange money in the streets. You are garonteed to get taken advantage of. Go to the bank, take a number, wait in line and exchange your money there. Or go to a deca deca currency exchange office. I got a better rate here. Last thing to know about currency in cuba. There is two money system so. One is meant for tourists (CUC), and the other for local people. (Peso) The CUC is equivalent to USD. 1=1. The local peso is not really worth the money it is printed on but you may revive some of this in change from street vendors. It used to be illegal to have local money or for them to have tourist money but I don’t think anyone seems to care any more.

 (photo-www.bu.edu)

So a bit of history of Cuba.. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara lead the revolution. It took from 1953-1959 to overthrow Cuban government and president Batista to a revolutionary socialist state. Batista antagonized the population by forming lucrative links to organized crime and allowing American companies to dominate the Cuban economy. The people also only had very limited sources for clean drinking water. That was the first promise made by Castro to the people. The promise of clean drinking water.

Fidel and brother Raul once tried to overthrow the government and were imprisoned. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His brother Raul got a 13 year sentence. However in 1955 under broad political pressure Batista freed all political prisoners in Cuba. Soon after the brothers met other exiles in Mexico to prepare the overthrow of Batistas government. In Mexico young lawyer Fidel met a young Argentinian doctor by the name of Che Guevara. They had lunch in Holbox, Mexico (where I began writing this post) and then sailed to Cuba to fight the present government and start the revolution.

Soon after the United States placed an embargo on Cuba weakening the government. Batista lost support from most Cuban people. Either to join the revolution or distance themselves. Support for Batista was mainly from US businessmen and the Mafia. After the embargo the Cuban Air Force couldn’t get parts to repair planes. Fidel with a group of men sometimes as fewer then 200 took on the Cuban military and police force of over 37,000 people and almost every time there was a military strike, they had to retreat. Once the government sent 12,000 soldiers and they were defeated by Fidel’s men. Once they took on a 500 men battalion. The revolution captured 240 men and only lost three of their own! After words of all the defeat Batista panicked and took flight for the Dominican Republic.

Fidel soon came from the mountains to the capital and appointed the new president.

Over 75% of the best land in Cuba was owned by US companies. One of the first policies of the newly formed Cuban revolution was eliminating illiteracy and the second being land reforms.

In 1959 all land and property owned by upper and middle class people was nationalized. Basically if you lived in Cuba and you lived in an apartment complex, you now own your apartment. It’s your house now. The farms owned by the wealthy companies from the states were taken over by the government.

Eisenhower froze all assets of Cubans on US soil and tightened the embargo. The American Embargo against Cuba is the longest lasting single foreign policy in American history!


During the first decade of Castro in power they improved rights for black Cubans, women, better health care, better housing, medical facilities and education. By the end of the 60s all children were reviving education. Previous to 1959 less then 40% of children in Cuba were educated.

Without getting any more political about the history of Cuba, read about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis.

Where to stay- 

In Havana stay at Casa Idania Obispo! Obispo No. 517 email-idaniaobispo@gmail.com Great location! Rooftop patio. Near restaurants and old Havana. $30 per night.

In Veradero most of the casas are very nice! Full apartments with bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom for $30-$35 per night.

What to eat-

In Havana pizza at Don Saluatore. Owner is Italian from NYC. Best pizza in Cuba!

Sloppy Joes has a good sloppy joe sandwich.

Cafe Paris has a good ropa viejo.

Getting to and from-

I had lots of problems booking flight for Cuba. So I went to Savanah travel agency and they booked flight for me from Cancun to Cuba with three days notice for $260. Make sure that includes your entrance and exit taxes. Also be sure you do not get your passport stamped if you are from the states!

(Black and white photos-photographer unknown)

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