My First Time In The Philippines
I first arrived in the Philippines in January 2007. I had been in Thailand for a while so I decided to take a trip down to Singapore for a few days. I had not stayed in Singapore for nearly 30 years and I landed there late at night. I went to Bencoolen
Street which used to be Singapore's equivalent of Khao Sarn Road to get cheap accommodation but when I got there the place had totally changed (no surprise really). There were no more cheap hotels…the stricter regulations that had been
imposed over the years had resulted in the closure of most of them. I found myself walking around the city at 12.30 AM looking for a place to stay. I eventually found a place which was very Spartan but it did me for the night. I berated myself
for making such a mistake as I am always well-prepared from a research point of view before I visit a country. Apart from the practical side of it I find it also adds to the pleasure of anticipation but I was to make the same mistake a few days
later. While I was there I came across a cheap flight (about 50 Euros) with Tiger Airways to Clark in the Philippines. I had never been there before so I decided on a whim that I would give it a shot and headed off the next day without even a
I remember coming down Perimeter Road in the taxi from the airport and noting the dilapidated state of the place and thinking if this is what the Philippines was like I was gonna be out of here in a few days. I was dropped at the America Hotel and walked past the security guard who had a pistol grip, pump action shot gun slung across his midriff! I found the price they were charging for the rooms way beyond my budget so I walked up to the Europe Hotel, a short distance away. It has been refurbished since but when I stayed there it was certainly one of the grottiest places I have ever stayed in Asia. I remember the floor was filthy and the shower fittings were jagged and half rotted away with rust. I took a stroll down Fields Avenue and was accosted by lots of very persistent beggars both young and old. The stench coming from the road side fish stalls made me gag. The noise and the fumes coming from the trikes and jeepneys was overbearing. So over all not a very pleasant introduction!
My first beer was had in Kokomos, a refreshing ice cold Sam Miguel Pilsen with a small napkin wrapped around the top of the bottle. I was thinking to myself as I settled into a seat watching the street life that maybe it was not so bad after all. I had a similar experience the first time I arrived in Bangkok many years ago when I went from thinking that I had made a terrible mistake in going there to loving the place in the space of a few hours. I mentioned in a previous sub that I now spend a few months each year in the Philippines.
My first encounter with a lady was later on that first night… I went into Club Lancelot which is just across the road from Kokomos and met a girl called G. She was a waitress there and we hit it off straight away. It was great after being in Thailand to be able to talk to a lady who could speak good English. She was wearing a white waiter style jacket and a black miniskirt that highlighted her gorgeous smooth brown legs! I had a really good time with her there – she was great fun… I wanted to barfine her but I was very tired after all the travel that day, so I told her that I would come back and see her the next day. She told me that there was no need to pay a barfine for her and that she could meet me after she finished work. I knew that ladies in Thailand that go with customers without a barfine being paid can be fined by the bar in if they are caught. I explained this to her and told that I did not want to get her in any trouble but she said that it was ok and she didn't care if the mamasan caught her on a sneak out as it is called there. <Good on you for thinking of the lady, but….I would not "support" this totally oppressive policy of some bar owners – Stick> I spent a few days with G in Angeles and we had a ball.
I decided after the few days that I would move on to Manila and when I told her she said that she would like to come with me. I asked her what she was going to do about her job and her response was to hell with it! She wanted to come with me!
We travelled down there on the local bus and as we got close to Manila. Every time the bus stopped to let passengers off, G who was sitting a few seats in front of me would go over to the opposite window and watch intently as people were taking their bags out of the hold of the bus. I was sitting near an American expat and I asked him if he knew what she was doing. He told me she was making sure that no one walked off with my rucksack! He pointed to the bag on the seat beside him and told me that is why when he travels on the bus there he buys two tickets one for himself and one for his bag! Lesson learned! <This can backfire in Thailand. I have heard a couple of stories of locals simply not recognising "a bag" as a rightful ticket holder and will take the seat despite your protests! – Stick>
We spent 5 days in Manila and stayed in the pension Natividad in Malate. The rooms are pretty basic there but it is a nice oasis from the hustle and bustle of Manila. As the name suggests the people that own it are very religious and while it is ok to check in with a girl…it was not allowed to bring in a girl in for the night! We did all the tourist things like going to see Intramuros which is the old part of Manila and Makati which is the business district. Anyone who fancies a value for money blow out in posh surroundings should try out the happy hour in the Shangri La Hotel there. It runs from 5 PM until 9 PM and it is all you can drink for around 400 peso (270 baht). It includes a steady supply of beer, wine or cocktails and the only proviso is that you have to stay on what ever you started with… I woke up with a serious Mai Tai hangover the morning after!
Very early on the morning of the 5th day in Manila, G got a text that her son was very ill and that she had to leave straight away for Cavite which is in southern Luzon. It was not a story that she made up so she could leave as there was no need for her to do that. I was still half asleep when she left. I travel quite a bit by myself and can say that I never feel lonely but when I woke up later, the room felt empty without her. We kept in touch for a while after and was glad to hear that her son was going to be ok but I never did get to see her again. I had had enough of Manila at that stage so later after breakfast I walked up to the Seair office in Ermita and booked a flight that afternoon for Boracay.
Wildlife and Wigs
I got to Boracay in the late afternoon where one of those tourist guides latched on to me. I told her several times that I was ok and that I did not need any help in finding accommodation but to no avail. When I got into the trike she just hopped on with me. I got off at Station 3 and she followed me down to the beach. These people who are usually women are very persistent. She told that she did not want any money so I finally relented and let her suggest a place I could stay. I only found out afterwards that they get a commission on whatever you pay for the room. I find it funny that no matter how much experience you have travelling you can still get turned over the first time you arrive in a place you haven't been before. A bit of advice to anyone who plans to go there is to tell these pests that you are a resident or you are staying with a friend who is a resident…that usually stops them in their tracks! The room I got was a traditional Nipa hut which was very basic but fine.
I haven't had many close encounters with the more exotic wild life that you can come across in Asia. The only one that stands out was when I was in Koh Samui in the early 80s. I was staying in a 30 baht a night hut on Chaweng Beach at the time.
The window was just a wooden shutter that you pulled across to leave in some light. I did this one morning to find a large luminous green snake reared up about three feet off the ground, about a foot away from my face and staring at me with his beady black eyes!
Luckily I think he was more scared of me than I was of him and after a few seconds he decided to retreat back into the undergrowth!
I was sitting on the throne doing a bit of business and reading my new Lonely Planet guide book for the Phils when my peripheral vision caught a shape high up on the wall behind me. When I turn to look I see this huge spider which is nearly as big as my hand. I remember thinking to myself that naw, that is too big to be real so I reasoned it must be one of those plastic stick on things!
I returned to reading my book in the vulnerable position I was in but when I looked back a few seconds later it wasn't there…it was on one of the other walls! I hastily finished the paper work and got my ass out of there! I had had enough of traditional Nipa style huts after that and booked myself into a more modern style room the next day!
On my first night out in Boracay I ended up in Charls bar which is on the beach near Station 2. The clientele are a very eclectic mix of people to put it mildly, which is the kind of place I always enjoy. The live music by some very talented Philippino musicians was very good, the type that I think would appeal to many Stickman readers…mostly 70s stuff like the Eagles, Neil Young, America, Jackson Brown…
My radar can pick up ladyboys (called billyboys in the Phils) at a thousand yards and there were a number of them in the bar. I like ladyboys albeit not in a carnal way, I enjoy their mannerisms and quirky sense of humour. I know that you can run into some thundering bitches but for the most part it is like anyone you meet if you treat them with courtesy and respect you should get the same back.
I sensed that something was amiss with some of them but I could not put my finger on what it was for a while. Then I twigged it…four or five of them were wearing wigs! With my curiosity piqued now I set out to find out what the deal was.
One of the local ladies finally told me the story, apparently when a ladyboy was bold as in dipping a tourist's wallet or mobile phone, the police would pick them up and bring them to the station and as a punishment would shave all their hair off! Surely a devastating thing to happen to some of the most vain individuals you are ever likely to come across!
I fear I may have rambled on a bit too much so I will sign off here.
Ciao for now
Not a ramble at all, but some delightful anecdotes of travel in the region!