Surfing and figuring out my next move after Taiwan were how I spent my last few days in Dulan. I had a few more stops along the way but was starting to think after 3 months here I may never leave. After all; the people are amazingly friendly, the food is delicious and the scenery is stunning. In Hualien, in-between horrific sunburn and passing out in the shower, I met many travelers who were discussing the Philippines. Mainly in a negative light. Due to the recent bombings in Manila and the increase in pirate kidnapping, many foreigners had cancelled their flights. Obviously this piqued my interest enough to revisit the conversation with a new set of travelers. The result: booking three flights to get myself to Siargao Island.
The mission of making it to Siargao Island
After some catching up in Kaohsiung and Taipei it’s a flight to Manila. Arriving so early I’m left will little to do with my evening. It’s finally time to create a massive conga line. First set back hits: I don’t have an exit flight out of the Philippines. I attempt to argue the fact I don’t know where I’m going after Siargao Island. I follow with a promise to leave within 30 days. Both arguments failing I leave the line and proceed to panic. Searching for cheap flights I give myself two weeks in the Philippines then fly to Hong Kong. Indonesia is actually where I wanted to go but hadn’t planned when and Hong Kong was the cheapest next to Taiwan. I had just come from Taiwan so Hong Kong it was. Note to self; get fucking organised!
Landing in Manila in the early hours of the morning I discover no food available. In fact, only the dim light of several vending machines offer a possibility of nourishment. I find only sugary drinks and water. No coffee. I repeat the earlier note made to ones self; get fucking organised! My next flight is to Cebu. I’m met with the same airport dilemma. Trying to keep spirits high I wait around for my flight and hope the plane serves food. There is no food. But it’s okay, one more flight and I’ll make it to Siargao Island by the morning. The plane to Siargao is the smallest I have ever been on. I’m relieved it isn’t full, not just for the weight but also my small hand luggage sized suitcase is too large for the over head compartment and under the seat.
From Siargao airport to Paglaom hostel
The airport is fairly out-of-the-way to the main strip of the island. I booked transfer via Paglaom hostel and I recommend others book in advance. I had been awake through the night without food and so was grateful to climb into an empty air-conditioned van. The desire to sleep lifted as I got my first view of life in the Philippines. The island is a paradox. It’s poverty and paradise almost overshadowing each other. A place resembling the beauty of a Monet where upon the illusion of perfection is stripped away once you look closely at the detail. The waters reflect the sun off its crisp waves and plastic bottles. The children joyfully laugh on the beaches as they weave bracelets for their income.
None of this is to dissuade anyone from visiting this once secret island. There is enormous life and beauty here. But with Siargao’s secrecy slowing disappearing, so is its natural beauty. It is not the influx of tourists to this paradise that bares the fault alone. Siargao island isn’t fully equipped to become a tourist hot-spot. There is no recycling in place and little in the way of medical facilities. The more resorts appear though, which is at a rapid speed, the more funding is going into protecting Siargao’s landscape and local people.
The home of Paglaom
Paglaom hostel has a vibe like no other. I arrive on family dinner day, obviously with no food to contribute. I was told it would be enough just to help prepare. Quickly showering I was immediately told I looked 100 times better than I did on arrival! We ate, we drank, we played questionable games and by the end of the night I was booked onto a SUP tour to a small island. This is the type of hostel where if you are traveling alone and want to meet people you’ve got it all. Strangers become family. Sunny and Coy are amazing and have a chalk board where they let you know what’s going on daily. Sunny also runs a small NGO doing beach clean ups and educating the youth of General Luna on protecting the environment. Coy is an amazing surfer who will teach you the best stand up technique on the kitchen table, and their dogs will keep you company if you fancy a quieter night in.
Things to do on Siargao island
Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines. With the famous Cloud 9 bringing surfers together from all over the world since the 80’s. It’s actually how the secret of Siargao was whispered among the tourists. But this slice of paradise doesn’t just cater to surfers. With yoga, tidal pools, caves and lagoons just being a taste of what is on offer here it attracts all kinds of travelers. Siargao is definitely a spot for nature lovers and beach bums. One thing I definitely recommend doing is island hopping. This often comes with lunch and is a great was to socialize with all your new hostel buddies. The waters are crystal clear providing a great opportunity for snorkeling among the coral and the beaches are a blinding white.
The best way to get around Siargao island is to rent a scooter. It will cost you around 350 pesos a day to explore this natural landscape. As a side-note; many of the hostels and restaurants are off the main strip and the roads turn into dirt tracks. With the high possibility of rain suddenly surrounding you these tracks become murky pools that are less than fun to ride through. If you are here to surf get yourself a bike with a rack in place so you can take your board to cloud 9 with ease. A great place not to miss is the Magpupungko Pool which is located in Pilar, about an hours drive from General Luna. This is the only tidal pool in the Philippines I have been told and offers an amazing spot to swim, separated from the ocean by a large reef that acts as a walk way during low tide.
Leaving Siargao Island
Having to leave after a week was awful. All I kept saying to myself was ‘this is why you don’t book flights in advance!’ I was kicking myself for only giving two weeks to the Philippines. I had let the recent news and travelers worries affect my decision. Many of the people I met had cancelled their next set of flights to extend their stay in this paradise. I wanted to do the same but I had my next destination booked and didn’t mind a reason to come back to Siargao. I toyed with the idea of looking for work at a resort and just staying forever! After saying goodbye to Sunny and Coy it was the start of my journey to Palawan. Puerto Princesa was my intended stop for a week before heading to Hong Kong….not Indonesia….again; get fucking organised.