Browsing Tag

South East Asia

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

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)

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