Friday, December 30, 2011

Philippine Dream

So back in September, there was a major Korean holiday called Chuseok.  Typically, we do not get any time off for Korean holidays, because EV is open on those days to attract visitors who come on those days.  However, Chuseok is one of the two times in a year where we get a set week off from work.  Considering I had only been in Korea for about 6 weeks, I wouldn’t have opted to take a vacation so soon after arriving, but there it was.  They certainly don’t make us go anywhere, but I wasn’t about to waste five whole days off just sitting around in my apartment.

So, with some digging and planning, I discovered that the Philippines would be the most cost-effective destination for my week of vacation.  I decided to visit Boracay (pronounced bor-ah-cai) because the beach was pretty and expenses would be cheap.  I booked my flight on Cebu Pacific Airlines, which is the Philippine’s low-cost carrier based out of Manila. 

(Unfortunately, in order to get the cheapest prices on my flight, I had to fly out of Busan, which is at the southernmost part of South Korea.  It ended up being such a hassle to get down there and do everything separately, so I really should have just spent more to fly out of Seoul. Experience is the best teacher, folks.)

For ideas on where to stay, I posted on the BSSK page asking if anyone had any recommendations for Boracay.  Another teacher mentioned that she had just returned from Boracay a couple of weeks prior, and highly recommended her accommodations at the Ocean Breeze Inn (OBI).  So, I looked it up online, asked a lot of questions, and decided to reserve a room there as well.

So, on Monday, September 12, I set out on the first of many travel adventures during my time here in SoKo.  Except for the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate between Paju and Seoul, getting to Seoul Station to hop on the KTX was relatively uneventful.  When I got to the train station in Busan, I went right outside and caught the Airport Limousine Bus, which got me to the airport in about an hour or so.

The flight from Busan to Manila was pretty uneventful.  I just made sure I brought my own drinks and snacks with me.  It was once I got to Manila airport, however, that things got really interesting.  Once I got off the plane, I had to go all the way out past the security checkpoint, since my ticket from Manila to Boracay was on a separate reservation.  When I came down the escalator, I literally saw HUNDREDS of people lined up all over the terminal camped out and sleeping.  I thought to myself, this can’t be good.  And it wasn’t.  So apparently Cebu has plenty of flights coming into Manila that land late at night, but the connecting flights out to other cities in the Philippines don’t leave until early in the morning, which means that people flying through Manila at night literally have to spend the night in the airport.  Ugh.  Luckily, my flight was one of the last ones to get in, so I really only had to burn about 3-4 hours until I could re-check my bag and then head through security.  I ended up having to walk past several hundred people sitting and laying down every which-a-way, until I was able to find an actual seat.  (Y’all know how I feel about sitting on floors). 

I got settled in and managed to finish a book while I waited.  Pretty soon, it was time for me to check in for my flight, and that’s when the real fun began.  Since my flight wasn’t one of the first ones out, I was able to avoid the mad dash of people that flooded the ticket counters once they opened.  When I did make it up to the ticket counter, I was politely informed that my flight to Boracay had been cancelled—yep, cancelled—due to “weather conditions.”  (So you know what face I’m making right about now, right?)  So, I ask, “What are you going to do about that?”  Turns out they’ve placed me on another flight to some other city (Kalibo), from which I would have to take a bus (that they provided) to Boracay.


Because I had arranged for airport pickup with the folks at OBI, I had to then call them and inform them of the change in travel arrangements, which wasn’t an easy thing, considering the fact that I was both without internet, and without cell service.  I ended up using one of those complicated international pay phone things that take credit cards, and after several attempts, got through to the Ocean Breeze Inn and told them that I would be late getting to Boracay….turns out I wasn’t as clear as I thought I had been.

After finally landing in Kalibo, we pulled up to the most rinky-dink looking airport I have EVER seen in my life:

Then, they line us up and we get loaded up into the vans for the ride to Boracay.  It wouldn’t have been as bad of a ride if (1) I would have been in the front seat, or (2)  I would have been sitting in a real seat.  Our van was one of those touristy type things, with seats along the side that start out as armrests, and then fold over into “seats” when the van fills up.  Why they decided to put me there is beyond me. 

Anyhoo, so we finally get to Boracay, and the van decides to drop us off at the Jetty Port, not the airport.  The jetty port is where you hop on the boat taxis to take you to various other parts of the area.  The jetty port was not, however, where the person from OBI was supposed to be meeting me.  So, I have to hop on one of these…

…”motorized pedicabs” for my 5 minute trip over to the airport.  I get to the airport, and there is no one there waiting for me with my name on a sign…so I wait.


And I wait.

And I wait.

After 30 minutes, I ventured across the street to see if the people at the little corner store had a phone that they would let me use.  Thankfully, they let me use their landline phone without charging me.  I was able to get in touch with someone at OBI, who informed me that the person who was supposed to meet me at the airport in Boracay had instead gone all the way to the airport in Kalibo to meet me.  And I’m thinking, that ain’t what I said on the phone!  I specifically stated that the airline would be providing a van, and that I would be about an hour or so late, but I would still meet them at the airport in Boracay.  So they said they would send someone else.  While I waited, I ended up plopping down at a table outside the store and buying a couple of drinks from them to thank them for their kindness… but I ended up having to wait another 30-45 minutes for the person from OBI to arrive. 

He finally gets there, we finally leave, and we have to get on another one of those pedicabs to get to the jetty port, and then take a boat to the other side of the bay, and then hop on another pedicab to get from that port to OBI.

After a 5-7 minute ride we pull up to some random walkway with a series of small wooden signs, one of which said Ocean Breeze Inn. 

After descending a lot of stairs, we snaked through a walkway through what pretty much were the back alleys of Boracay.  What I was seeing was certainly not the tropical paradise I was expecting, but I was waiting to reserve comment until I had actually laid eyes on OBI….

The entire guesthouse

Ground Floor

Kitchen/Dining Area

Through the door on the left on the ground floor was my home for the next 3 nights.


I know what you’re thinking….that room is TINY.  It certainly is….but that’s the room I chose because (1) it was just me, (2) I didn’t plan on spending a lot of time in my room, and (3) I didn’t want to spend a boatload of money on my room….and I didn’t…here was my bill for my entire stay.  

At the time, 3,220PHP was less than $70 USD
(Sidenote: To those of you who are completely alarmed by the bathroom, don’t be.  The bathroom set up is a typical Asian wet bathroom, whereby there’s not a separate enclosed shower area.  So, I was neither surprised nor bothered by it, so don’t worry!)

Now, on the surface, this seemed to be a great place to stay for my short trip….however….
There were a couple of things that made me say, hmmmm, perhaps not.  For starters, there was an army of little tiny baby ants that invaded my bed at all hours.  None of them bit me, but it’s quite a bit unnerving to have that creepy crawly feeling when you’re trying to get some good vacation sleep.  Also, right outside my door was the little patio area, so whenever any of the other guests wanted to smoke on the patio, I got the pleasure of inhaling their tobacco funk.  One thing that annoys me is sleeping in a bed where the head of the bed isn’t up against a wall.  As you can see the bed in this room was not…there’s clearly not enough room for all that.  But what’s annoying about it is the fact that I had to keep waking up in the middle of the night to fish my pillows off of the floor…a small inconvenience, but again, it interfered with my vacation sleep.  Another thing that I was completely unprepared for was the lack of towels.  I had neither bathroom nor beach towels, which wasn’t a total disaster when I went to the beach because I could just air dry in the sun, but every time I took a shower I’d have to shake/drip/air dry.  I guess it wasn’t a complete tragedy, but just annoying nonetheless.  The one thing that REALLY ticked me off one day was when I went to the refrigerator to eat the rest of my pizza that I had brought home the previous night, only to discover that someone had taken it upon him/herself to eat half of what was left.  Um, HELLO….if you didn’t buy it, DON’T EAT IT.  It was my last day, so I didn’t trip, but I do plan to write an honest review on Trip Advisor. :-) 

Speaking of food, one of the plusses to staying at this resort was having a hot breakfast cooked for me every morning.  It was pretty good except for the egg situation….I like my eggs scrambled, but they seem to like to do the whole runny yolk thing in these parts…so I just ate around it.

Bacon, Eggs, Toast, Rice, and Fries

So I mentioned that OBI was located in the back alleys of Boracay.  While the walk from the beach to the hotel was only about 5 minutes, it certainly wasn’t the most attractive journey.  Here’s what it looked like to get from the beach:





By now, you’re probably wondering what I did everyday.  Well, let me tell you…when I vacation, I vacation.  So, my days generally consisted of the following: wake up, breakfast, window shopping/reading on the beach, lunch, reading on the beach, take a nap, happy hour, reading on the beach until sunset, dinner, roaming around, another happy hour, go to bed…..rinse and repeat!

Aside from the wonderful beach, happy hour was my favorite part of Boracay...and it was more like happy day than happy hour...the times were usually 2-8pm or 1-10pm for happy hour specials.  The drinks were SO CHEAP!  So, I would just tell them to keep ‘em coming!  Here are some pictures of the happy hour menus….and just for a point of reference, 50 PHP = $1.15 USD (approx)


Here are some pictures of the food I ate while I was there…



All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m really glad I decided to go to the Philippines.  There are some things that I would do differently if I decide to go back, but I certainly don’t regret going.  I highly recommend Boracay as a great place for a solo getaway, as you can do as much, or as little as you want.  I’ll end this blog with a couple of things….the cost breakdown of the money I spent on transportation to/from Boracay (to illustrate that I should have just paid the extra money and departed from Seoul instead of Busan) and my lessons learned from this trip.

Transportation Costs:
  • Seoul to Busan KTX – 48,600 KRW
  • Airport Limousine from KTX to Busan Airport – 5,000 KRW (dep)
  • Flight : Busan – Manila (RT) – 291,200 KRW (inclusive of baggage fees each way)
  • Flight : Manila – Boracay (RT) – 199,000 KRW (inclusive of baggage fees each way)
  • Boracay Airport Domestic Passenger Terminal Fee – 528 KRW
  • Manila Airport Domestic Passenger Terminal Fee – 5,300 KRW
  • Manila Airport User’s Charge – 19,800 KRW
  • Jetty Port Fees - 4,600 KRW each way
  • Airport Limousine from Busan Airport to KTX– 5,000 KRW (ret)
  • Busan to Seoul KTX – 55,500 KRW

Lessons learned:
  • Don’t travel to another city for a cheap departure flight. The cost, time, and headache to get to/from that city cancel out any money you may have “saved” by booking a cheaper flight.
  •  I’m not a backpacker hostel type of girl.  While I’m super-frugal and always looking for a good deal on accommodations, I’m not willing to sacrifice comfort, convenience, and restful sleep during my vacation just to save a few pennies.
  • Remember to inquire about whether or not your hotel/motel/hostel/guesthouse provides towels.