Top 5 of 2013: Philippines

It was one of the fastest years of my life. My blog entries are piling up already, and the oldest ones are a year behind. I haven't posted my holiday trips last year even! I still vow to finish them though within the next month.

I always thought I lacked travel compared to other years, but upon reviewing my year, I think it was still enough to make a complete list. I traveled mostly out of the country this year, from the UAE at the start, to Australia in the end and of course, a lot of Asia in the middle. I found myself in the same places, from Phuket, Bali, HK, Singapore and Malaysia. I also took my first cruise, which I still have to write about. I also decided to spend time in the Philippines this Christmas for the first time in 4 years, but soon left for Hanoi, where I am currently writing this. I actually spent more time abroad than in the country.

So, it was difficult coming up with my list for 2013. Because of my recent trend in travel, I decided to split the list into Top 5 of the Philippines and Top 5 abroad. I was devastated with Haiyan's destruction of my favorite places. This Jan 5, I will be going to Tacloban for the first time since the deadly storm. It was the best and worst of times. But in the end, 2013 ended with a lot of hope and happiness. That was enough indeed.


5. Stilts Calatagan

I really have a soft spot for resorts on water. The next two entries prove that. I have always wanted to visit Stilts since it underwent renovation 3 years ago. It was only this year, when we made a spontaneous decision to go down South, to visit the place.

Stilts is actually an old resort, but its interiors were given a facelift and suddenly, demand shot up. And who wouldn't fall in love with views of the ocean while on their hammocks hung on their room terraces. 

Stilts is located in Calatagan in Batangas, a 3 hour drive from Manila. Prices for the cottages start at 5,000 pesos which I think is still quite high.

4. Maxima

Maxima, oh, Maxima. You have been on my list before already. But this year's trip made me realize I have to make the pilgrimage every year from now on. Another house on water, this vacation rental is a 4 bedroom villa with a live coral garden underneath it. Snorkel off the deck after having breakfast, or kayak in the middle of the night. Everything is possible. You can even go to nearby Aquafun Waterpark for more splashing adventures.

3. El Nido Pangulasian

I really want to make this my number 1, but because this place was really love at first sight for me. And to think I have high standards for resorts in the Philippines. This resort set the bar higher or made me rethink that the Philippines has hope. Thanks to El Nido and the Ayalas for bringing a truly world class island escape in the country that can finally rival the Maldives. I still wish we could have more of these though.

El Nido Pangulasian is also the highest rated resort in my blog so far. It beats my favorites in Bali, Phuket and even the Maldives. This really goes off the scales, and probably because it is run by Filipinos who can truly make anything world class. If you haven't heard of Pangulasian, book your next anniversary celebration here. Every peso is worth it, believe me!

2. Baler

Whenever people ask me about my favorite place as of the moment, I always mention Baler. And most give me the same shocking reaction. Really?! Then I continue with my spiel. Just over 4 hours away from Manila, Baler is truly an idyllic escape, a charming Pacific retreat that is beginning to blossom into a full-fledged resort town. With the opening of Costa Pacifica, Baler just got the much needed mileage to make itself an emerging destination in the country.

Popular with surfers, Sabang Beach is the main hub, with a handful of resorts welcoming more guests. The pioneering Bay's Inn has a wonderful seaside restaurant that is still THE place to eat and hang out in the area. If the fine black sand doesn't appeal to you, then trek to Ditumabo Falls or visit the century old Balete tree. There are several things to do in Baler and its surroundings. You can even opt to explore more of Aurora province.

Baler does make you feel far away from the city and the winding 4-hour drive just makes the trip more exciting. Leave after midnight in Manila to arrive in Aurora just at the crack of dawn, when the wonders of early morning light display their beauty across the spectacular rural landscape.  

I think I have said enough and what I want to say is clear. If you haven't been to Baler, go now! I'm very sure anyone, non-surfers alike, will find a sweet spot for this laid back getaway.

1. Boracay

It was really a toss up between Baler and Boracay. The latter won just because I visited the island 7 times this year (twice in December). And I guess, Boracay does deserve to be in my top spot. I have always been avoiding it, but I realized it's really a place that I truly love.

If you ask me my favorite resort in the island, I would still give you Shangri-La (which I visited four times this year). I have to admit that getting a villa in Shangri-La is addicting. I have stayed in two villas this year. In my other trips, I tried to keep my adventures within a budget. In November, just before Haiyan struck, I backpacked Boracay with a budget of just P5,000 for 3 days. My budget hotel option would be Hey Jude in D'Mall (no beach front), Hannah's and True Home in Station 1. But I am apply to have discovered a new spot in the island this year: the far end of Station 3.

Station 3's far end is past the boat station, where the walk path eventually ends. You'll notice the beginning of the area, when the crowd gets diminished and becomes mostly Europeans who lie down on the sand or chill out in the lounges of their resorts all day.

This is now my sort of vacation - steady and relaxed. I often seek for peace and quiet nowadays, and who would have thought it still existed in Boracay. Well, Station 3 does offer that. Goodbye Station 1. I have been allured to the other end, where everything is friendlier and charming.

I am happy that Boracay was my choice in the end. I always asked my friends what I should put. But, I think Boracay deserves the crown this year. I literally have spent more than a month in this island this year. And I think that speaks for itself. It is my top destination locally for 2013.

My next post will be my top 5 in the rest of the world. But before that, I would like to wish everyone a Merry New Year!


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