1.29.2014

RoRo Bus to El Nido

The next morning, we headed out to the Puerto Princesa Bus Station at 10 a.m.  There are two ways to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa: via 7 hour bus or 5-6 hour van ride.  We took the RoRo (Roll on-Roll Off) Bus because it's slightly cheaper (378 Pesos per person) than a van (normally 600 Pesos if you book through an agency) thinking it would be a more stable ride.  Not to mention, we were told at the bus terminal that RoRo bus was the only one going to El Nido. 

It's a long scenic route from Puerto to El Nido
RoRo bus wasn't in the best condition and housed many mosquitoes. 
But on the up side, there was AC.
The bus ride was extremely windy and bumpy; our driver preferred not to brake into the turns.  Some of the 2-lane road we were driving on was not paved and we played chicken a lot, to get ahead of the other vehicles.  The bus takes longer because the driver stops occasionally to pick up locals waiting along the side of the road.  Most people don't have cars out in the country and they rely on the buses that go between  Puerto and El Nido to get to their destinations.  RoRo Bus makes 2 stops: in Roxas and TayTay so passengers can use the toilet and buy food.
 
One of the many small villages we passed on the way to El Nido.
We made a stop so that inspectors could ensure we were not bringing mangoes from the south part of Palawan into the Northern part.  Something about transporting weevils of some sort... I took the opportunity to take a picture of the coast
Children alongside the road; they like to wave :)
We finally arrived in El Nido around 5 p.m.  Just in time to find and check into a bed and breakfast and head straight to dinner.  Travel days, even though not quite "active", always take a lot out of me.  In hindsight, we found out the alternative bus company is Cherry Bus, which looked a lot newer and well kept in comparison.  It costs more, but if you don't want to compromise comfort, give Cherry Bus a try.
 
El Nido Beach at dusk



OG's Resto Bar Happy Hour 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
San Miguel Beers 35 Pesos
All Cocktails 100 pesos
Mango Daquiri at Ogie's Resto Bar

Puerto Princesa: Chicken and Beaches


Puerto Princesa is the capital of the island of Palawan in the Philippines.  Many visitors choose Boracay when they visit the Philippine Islands, but we decided on Palawan because it is quieter and less inundated by tourists.  Where there are more tourists, there are higher prices for everything from transport to food to accommodation... and thus, that much more need for the strategic skill of haggling, which I have yet to master.

Hello Palawan

Puerto Princesa Airport
After sleeping off the exhaustion from the red eye flights, we decided to visit a beach recommended by locals.  Pristine Beach (also known as White Beach) was nearby and the pictures boasted fine white sand and clear blue waters on the brochures.  We hopped on the first tricycle we saw and headed out.


Inside the tricycle
However, it had rained earlier that morning and there was a full moon the night before so Pristine Beach looked a bit different when we got there...

The tricycle took us through the muddy path to the beach
It was a cloudy day and the high tide from the full moon made the beach very wet...

View of Pristine Beach from the sea.  Local teenage boys were fishing out of a boat and then showcasing and selling their catches to visitors eating in the huts.  Pick a fish and they'll clean & BBQ it for ya :) 

 Nonetheless, it didn't stop us from frolicking in the water and meeting a nice Spaniard family vacationing. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed the famous Haim's Chicken Inato (Barbecued chicken). 

Everyone knows Haim's!
Spicy Chicken Inato. I could eat a lot of these.


 Next Stop: El Nido

1.28.2014

Tipping: Do or Don't? And How much?

When visiting another country, it's important to know the local customs to show respect and make a good impression.  Even though you are just one person, to many people, you are representing your entire country (not fair, but there are reasons for stereotypes).

One issue that gets confusing for me is tipping.  I wonder: Should I tip?  For what services? And how much?  While it is common to tip at least 15% for everything in the United States, this is not so everywhere.  For example, in many countries such as Italy, a service charge is already included on your restaurants bill, therefore eliminating the need for an additional tip.  Sure, you can intentionally over tip or tip "just in case", but the downsides can be as follows:
- you spend much more money than you can afford (it adds up!  a major problem for budget travelers)
- you may encounter some awkward moments and cause confusion with service workers
- some people will refuse your tip (also awkward)
- you may be thought a fool  

From what I've observed in China and Taiwan, it is not customary to tip.  That means your food costs whatever it is listed on the menu.  In some fancier restaurants, a service charge may be added and noted on the menu, but this is not common for most regular eateries.  No tipping for cabs, either.  What's on the meter is what you pay.  No tipping for hotels, drinks, or haircuts.  One time, Stephen tried to tip for a haircut in Taipei. and the stylist covered her face and ran out of the room.  In the end, accepted the tip, but was obviously very embarrassed and didn't know what to do or how to react.

Going to the Philippines, I didn't know what to expect.  Customs aren't always consistent for every city in a country.  While it might be common to tip in one place, it might be completely unexpected and unnecessary in another. There are many guides about tipping in foreign countries on the internet, but not all of them are accurate.  I think the best thing to do is to ask (or watch) a local.

Courtesy of Mint.com
P.S. it's important to know HOW to tip as well.  In some countries, leaving money on the table may not be as forthright and understood as putting a tip directly into your server's hand.  In Germany, if you leave a tip on the table, you may find that the waitstaff will return it to you as though you forgot it there.  In Asian countries, handing anything to another person requires 2 hands, even if it's a tiny item.  A few months ago, I had to stop eating dinner and clear my hands of everything so that a businessman could give me his business card.  It was very serious business!

Happy tipping! (or, not-tipping!)

1.20.2014

24-Hours Awake

The day after the semester ended, we took UBus to Taipei and stayed over night in preparation for our holiday in the Philippines.  We made the most of our day by visiting some of the national monuments and biking around town.
The National Theater
Walking up to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai Shek's statue is guarded like Buckingham Palace.  We were lucky to catch the last Changing of the Guards Ceremony of that day.  Kinda like our Lincoln statue in D.C.
Taipei 101 in the distance, almost pointing at a full moon that night.
Late that evening, we took a flight to Manila.  We didn't even get to step out of the Manila airport since we booked a domestic flight soon after.  On the up side, Manila airport had many more food options while we were waiting to board.  While I rarely frequented Cinnabon at home, I was so excited to see one after being away.  When you're away from home for long, you start missing places for familiarity, even if you didn't really enjoy them much in your home town.

The highlight of being awake at 4 am. at Manila Int'l Airport.
Finally we took another flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  This was the first time in a long time I pulled an all-nighter.  Right around 18 hours, I was a little woozy and after 22 hours, I could hardly keep my eyes open and fell asleep for a short time waiting at Gate 116.  We saved idle waiting time and a lot of dollars but efficiency has its costs!  When we finally arrived in Puerto, the first thing we did was check into a hotel, eat, and go straight to bed.

Flying into Puerto Princesa, capital of the island of Palawan

Have you ever pulled an all-nighter?  What are your stay-awake tactics?  Mine were reading a book, taking photos, and walking around duty-free shops.