Borocay, Philippines

This is the last in our blog series for the Philippines. To read from the start of our Philippines travel journal, please click here

After two long days of buses and boats that took us across four islands and feautured one of the sketchiest places we’ve ever stayed (think ‘Trainspotting’, graffiti on the walls, doors that won’t lock, flooded bathrooms…), we finally arrived onto tourist favourite, beautiful Borocay.

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On our last leg – a fast ferry across to Borocay itself – I was already beside myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing some of my best mates after nearly a year of separation. When the boat came into port, and we hopped on a collective taxi to our hotel, I was pretty much overflowing with apprehension. Then we finally got to our place, and there they were – Jack, Harri and Lil! Argh! It was so good to see them, I can’t even really describe.

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We sorted out our rooms, bought some giant beers, and sat outside in the hot humid evening, talking each other’s faces off, catching up, laughing hard, and being serenaded by random groups of kids who were doing the rounds with Christmas Carols!

After too many beers (proven by the fact I stacked it on a pavement and grazed my knees up!) we headed out to dinner, and me and Sam took our buddies to a rather grim restaurant that we’d – by this point – become accustomed to, and we snaffled down noodle soups and small plates of barbecued meats. The night ended, as all first nights do, with us going too hard on the beers, followed by an impassioned debate about the London housing property crisis, and a 4am bed-time!

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The next day we hobbled out of bed and took the short walk down some back streets to jaw-droppingly beautiful White Beach. This is the postcard-perfect beach you see in your mind when you think of The Philippines – all sugary soft blinding white sand, and sea so clear and turquoise it just melts from the sand into its deep blue nothingness. We spent a delirious and relaxing day on the sand, sheltering under some trees in what would become ‘our spot’ in front of a private villa – a spot also used by local Filipinos as it was the main spot of shade on the beach! In your FACE, fancy villa people!

We also went for many dips in the sea, lolling about, ‘hanging out with the buoys’, and enjoying the pristine views. Pre-NYE, the beach wasn’t actually too crowded, despite people’s warnings to us about how developed and mad Borocay was, and the wide beach did a pretty good job of swallowing up the growing crowds.

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We managed to find a really nice local food place – which would later be known as Jacob’s, after we shared a fun night drinking with one of the restaurant guys on NYE – which served really cheap small plates of barbecue meat, squid, spring rolls, satay and curries with rice, coming to about a pound per person… this became me and Sam’s favourite food option in the day times!
We had dinner at a barbeque place that played hilariously loud banging house music, and we dined on delicious spicy coconut squid, assorted meats and fried rice. Despite a couple of uber strong Red Horse beers with dinner, we decided to strategically call it a night in prep for NYE!

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Daytime on NYE was a relaxed affair, reserving our energy for the night ahead – mooching on White Beach and switching over the Bulabog Beach – the windy side of the island – to watch kite surfers in action.

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That evening, we got dolled up in our party gear, downed some beers and headed out for a slap-up meal of BBQ meat/fish and delicious sides, containing ACTUAL FRESH VEGETABLES (rare in Phillies!) and tasty rice, then we made our pre-mix bottles of rum and coke and hit the beach, where things slowly unravelled in the most drunken of fashions!

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It started with photos with local families, rum swilling, kidnapping Jacob from the restaurant to accompany us in our festivities, and some really spectacular fireworks at midnight, lighting up the whole coastline, with a backdrop of loud music playing out of the bars. It was fun, high energy and beautiful, a great memory shared with great friends.

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Then… well, I’m not really sure. None of us really are! We know we were drunk enough to be peeing in the sea part-naked, then some of us got more naked and went for a swim… I left pretty early, Harri was left looking after important stuff like y’know, wallets, for the others then also came home… then the others came back piecemeal between 4am and 7am, with little memory of what happened! I guess that makes a NYE success?! The next day we were a pretty pathetic sight and managed little more than a hangover McDonalds, handling a growing sense of remorse, and more delirious swims in the sea/sunbathing. This would be our one and only alcohol-free-day of Borocay (well, if you don’t count the early hours that is!)

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The second day of the new year, we were feeling back in our spritely spirits and set about creating a chicken feast we’d coined as ‘chicken hands’ but – to our dismay – the rotisserie chicken places seemed to be all closed. Why?! A secret plot to thwart our plans!? So, instead, as you do, we bought a load of burgers, crisps and beer, and thoroughly got back on the (Red) Horse, ending in yet another late night.
The penultimate night we succeeded with our ‘chicken hands’ plan and made an utterly delicious chicken noodle soup with tons of veggies, on the little hob adjacent to our rooms. It was really fun cooking as a group, plus… veggies!

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On our last day, the guys went on a fun snorkelling tour around the island whilst me and Sam had some couple time (read: time to stuff our faces in some gross cheap food places that we now deem acceptable), and in the evening we bade a fond farewell to Borocay in the only way we knew how: rum on the beach, followed by karaoke.

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We’d told the guys about our fun japes in Siquijor doing karaoke in a local karaoke bar, and we really wanted to try as a group. So we took a rum-fuelled stroll down the beach to Zone 3, which is more of a local kinda part of the island, and found a cheap eats place, where the restaurant lady tipped us off about a local underground karaoke bar, and arranged us a trike to get there.

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The bar was hilarious. A small room under a restaurant, with about 2 or 3 patrons at any time – unanimously, older guys – swilling beer, half asleep/half awake, and some eager staff passing out slips of paper for the kareoake-keen. We got involved with some ice cold buckets of Red Horse and once full of dutch courage, started putting our requests out for karaoke. After this point, it was solely us doing the karaoke, switching between ourselves with no breaks, as the beer kept flowing and the tracks kept coming!
As a proper novelty for the locals, we were received warmly (- it’s customary to be a good audience in the Philippines, and there was actually a sign saying any trouble makers would be fined! It’s thought hugely disrespectful to cat-call / be mean to anyone singing.) Sam opened with Wannabe, I took over with Gloria Gaynor, Harri belted out some Amy Winehouse, Lil mastered some soul classics and Jack chose Piano Man, then we went round again (and again!)

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The audience (of two or three men, plus eager staff) lapped it up, and we got some good cheers and clapping, not to mention filming on mobile phones! It was a super fun night, and we were all pretty wrecked, sweaty and exhausted by the time we took a fun, fast trike ride home.

So, all in all, a great week of endless laughs with good mates, interactions with some nice locals, sun, sea and sand… and probably way too much rum. Next, we travelled to a nearby airport where we flew (FAR too hungover) to our next destination … Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam!

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Siquijor Island, Philippines

Siquijor felt like home, so it was perfectly fitting that this would be where we’d spend our first Christmas together, as a couple.

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We ended up choosing Siquijor as we’d met a great Filipino girl, Gerlen, on a bus in Palawan, and she’d mentioned her aunt owning a hostel on a chilled beautiful island, overlooking the sea, with a kitchen (to prepare Christmas dinner), nearby shops, cheap barbecues, and karaoke. It sounded perfect. At just under seven quid a night, the place sounded like a bargain, so we snapped it up, and it ended up being one of our favourite places in all of the Philippines.

 

The ferry to Siquijor – on 23rd December – was pretty hilarious, with families heading home for the Christmas break with hundreds of bags (many just containing food and snacks… our kind of people!); fighting cocks in cages, and even pet dogs. The ferry took forever to get there as people took ages loading on and off with all their Christmas shopping, but it was all very sweet!

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When we finally arrived at Siquijor, we loved it on sight. All deserted beaches, rocky wild shores, and easy-going scenic palm-tree fringed roads that looped around the island and were half-empty apart from motor bikes and tricycles. We caught a trike to our apartment – Lorna’s End of the World – and were welcomed in with a massive warm welcome from Gerlen and her siblings. We were shown our room and it was just what we wanted! A little rustic, but spacious with a huge double bed, a kitchenette, and a patio, with doors that opened out onto the ocean view so we could see the sea from our bed!

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We checked out the immediate vicinity and found a super friendly shop lady across the road who sold ice-cold giant beers, had a karaoke bar on the side, and assured us she was open throughout the Christmas period. Heavenly. Gerlen hooked us up with our own huge 20L bottle of water to go in our water cooler, and we were set! We put the Christmas album on, got our Christmas hats on, stocked the fridge with beer, and hung in the hammocks to watch the sun set.

 
Only a couple of hours had passed when Gerlen popped up to ask us if we’d like to join her family on the beach for dinner. We were taken aback by the warmth and hospitality, and immediately accepted, and we dined on delicious barbecued pork they prepared on a fire on the beach, with rice and veggies and lots of Tanduay rum! We sat out on a table on the sand, and chatted away, catching up on events since we’d last met, and it felt like meeting up with old friends.

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After dinner (and LOTS of rum) we decided to hit the karaoke bar across the street – our first shot at karaoke, a favourite Filipino past time! Given we were mostly girls, we chose a load of feminist hits, from Gloria Gaynor to Spice Girls, and everything in between (mostly Queen and Abba). I got a real taste for it, and we kept the rum and coke flowing from the lovely shop owner ( – a litre of rum costing about one pound!) The night ended with more rum swilling on the beach and defending my new sisters against some sleazy men who’d tried to join our group. Girl Power was definitely the ongoing theme of the night…!

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The next day was Christmas Eve and despite having a hangover that could have kept us bedridden all day, we hauled ourselves into the bright sunshine to walk into town to do our shopping for Christmas lunch! Being still drunk/hanging gave us a determined edge, and we managed to find everything (chicken, veggies, potatoes, beers) in record time. We even found wrapping paper! We returned home to wrap our presents, dance around to Christmas songs, and decorate our new home with our Christmas tree, baubles, Christmas banners and twinkling Christmas lights.

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We were visited by our old travel buddy Bill who we’d met in Palawan, and he seemed suitably impressed with our Christmassy flat (as did our neighbours!) – and we arranged to go for Christmas Eve drinks later, but subsequently passed out with hungover exhaustion / overexcitement!

 
Christmas day itself was really magical from beginning to end. We woke up with Christmas tunes and a breakfast of chocolate oatmeal on the balcony overlooking the sea, then we shared a beer and started giddily opening our big bags of presents! Sam really spoiled me and got me exactly the kind of gifts I wanted – along the kids’ gifts theme – stuff like a Frozen pencil case and gel pens; bubbles; a bear piggy bank; earrings; nail varnish; paint set; mini dolls; a fan; sandals and clothes (admittedly, I picked the clothes!). I got him a more boyish variation on the theme, stuff like a toy keyboard, a slinky, bat and ball set, water bottles, and some much-needed new clothes! In lieu of any kind of real dessert, we also bought each other loads of chocolate! Mmm.

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I felt bad that he’d so clearly won the presents, so I offered to sort out Christmas dinner and the cooking for the day, which actually turned out to be really therapeutic after so long out of the kitchen. I prepped the veggies and made the gravy (using some granules brought from the mainland), and had to improvise the roast potatoes and yorkshire puddings as we didn’t have an oven, so I deep-fried the potatoes on the hob and made the yorkies in a pan!

 
After a delicious lunch and a fair whack of beer, Sam took an afternoon nap while I overdosed on downloaded Christmas films like National Lampoon’s and Muppets Christmas Carol, to the distant soundtrack of locals belting out Christmas karaoke tracks down the road. Later on we went to visit our mate Bill and his new friends for a little beach party down the road.

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We took a bottle of rum with us and there was leftover rum to go around from their antics the previous night, so we all got very merry around a big camp fire on the beach, and someone had even found some smokes, so we got even merrier, resulting in Sam acting pretty hilariously, much to everyone’s amusement. Chatting turned into delirious giggling, and we crawled along the coast trying to find an open shop to buy more rum, eventually admitting defeat and returning to ours for a midnight snack of chocolate and banana pancakes, one of my favourite things to cook!

 
Boxing day was very subdued, and although we’d planned a tricycle tour around the island with Bill, we ended up getting up too late and instead mooched around at home, cooked some big pasta and veggie lunches, and I went for a stroll down the wild sandy coastline, finding a spot of shade under a palm tree to plonk myself down and listen to a few podcasts. Walking back along the rocky sea at low tide listening to some dramatic Classical songs on my phone, I felt a moment of complete contentment and realised I really didn’t want to leave the island in a couple of days’ time.

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Another reason the island felt so much like home was because we’d developed a little family. Gerlen had left on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with her son back in Dumaguette, but we’d inherited a family – their deaf grandma, her sister and her aunt who frequently visited us to discuss the latest dramas in their family, and with the eccentric drunk Swedish artist who rented the flat next to us, or just to nosey around and see what we were doing. Although annoying at times (especially when were were trying to hang out naked in the apartment!), they also felt familiar – in good, and annoying ways – just like family.

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On our final day we got our arses in gear and took the tricycle ride around the island, which only made us fall for Siquijor even more. Our sweet driver took us around the island highlights – starting with a magical old Belen tree where you can dangle your feet into the water for a free fish spa. I was too scared but they loved all of Sam’s dry skin!

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Next up, we visited beautiful old Lazi Convent, complete with church opposite, which was stunning:

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Next onto Cahugay waterfalls, which were all cool jade waters and dense jungly backdrop. Given the shallow seas / low tides on our side of the island, it felt great to be finally immersed in water!

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Finally, we visited Sabantahang Beach which is a pretty little cove with a private beach, and we were joined by loads of holidaying Filipinos who were really funny to watch: most had come with about a week’s worth of food and Tanduay rum and coke ( – we had totally found ‘our people’) – and milled about on the beach and in the sea, getting slowly drunk and chowing down on cookies. They even let us drink some of their water and coke that they had left over by the end of the day. So sweet!

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We spent our last night going out for BBQ chicken with our apartment neighbours and taking down their travel tips for our remaining time in SE Asia. I conked out pretty early but Sam stayed up pretty late drinking rum with the boyfriend of the couple.

 
Given we’d essentially overstayed by a day in Siquijor (unable to leave) we were faced with an absolutely horrendous two days of travel, to meet up with our buddies from home who were visiting, and who we were supposed to meet in Borocay on the evening of the 28th! So, on the morning of the 27th, we embarked on our long overland journey across four islands in two days….!

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