PARADISE FOUND: SIARGAO, PHILIPPINES

I will tell you a secret: I’ve found my Paradise. And I want to keep it to myself. After a couple of days I started thinking of buying a house here and staying. Why not? Eeek!

Honestly, it was hard for me to find a handful of photos to put on this blog entry. Everywhere I turned around in this place was just picture-perfect.


Let me start from the beginning… I first came across Siargao via 2 travel bloggers I follow – Sabrina’s Just One Way Ticket and Clelia’s Keep Calm and Travel. They both wrote very comprehensive guides about Siargao, how to get there, what to do if you’re a surfer or non-surfer. So I won’t go into that. I will tell you my story instead.

After having visited El Nido in Palawan island, I had some pretty damn high expectations from Siargao. El Nido’s beauty was striking. Just a day after we left it, we landed in Siargao. The Cebu Pacific’s aircraft was officially the tiniest plane I have ever flown with. We had trouble landing due to weather conditions. The captain warned us that if we weren’t able to land for 20 minutes, he would have to go back to Cebu as he had enough of fuel for only so much time. Making circles above the island made me realize how small it was. So was the airport. Well, at least they have an airport, for 1 flight per day.

For the first couple of days we stayed at Kermit Surf Camp resort. Travellers raved about it so we had to try it. It was our fate that they were fully booked 4 months in advance already which allowed us for only couple of nights of stay. It all worked in our favour but I’ll get into that later. As the resort is so popular, I had certain expectations. I don’t want to spoil their opinion here, because in many ways it’s a great place to be. They have excellent (free) breakfasts; good party atmosphere and their native style cottages are clean and pretty nice. One night I participated in a campfire there, with guitars playing and people singing along. It reminded me of my Girl Scout times.

However, I was surprised to learn that the prices had gone up by 30% in comparison to year before (2014). This was one of the reasons why we held up with finalizing the booking for a while. As we were travelling on a budget, $6 or $7 made a difference to us. There seemed to be a sense of pride in staff members of what they had achieved over the last couple of years. Nothing wrong with that, but somehow it made me feel too awkward to tell the restaurant manager (who took an order from us) that he brought me not the food I had chosen. There were also a couple of other misunderstandings including payment for bills and returning keys.

In summary: nice place, great food, hipster atmosphere but they have still one or two things to learn.

When we had learned a few months earlier that Kermit was fully booked, we had to find another place for the rest of our stay. That’s how I came across AirBnB mini villa place (called Residencia Miramar), run by a Filipino lady with her English husband. It turned out that we could not have chosen a better place to stay. At the time we were there, the couple were on holidays in Europe, but the place was taken care of by the lady’s brother – Bebet - and his family. I used to love staying in the hammock for hours and reading my book. The bedroom (there were actually two of them but as a couple we used just one) was simple but had a solid mosquito net on the bed. There was no running water, but large buckets were refilled for us twice a day. We had a view right at the beach, which was 1 minute away and lived in a friendly neighborhood with the locals. The house was in General Luna town, just 10 minutes walk from the local market. It took us a while to get used to roosters waking us up at random times of the night though. Ah, and there were a few pigs and goats in the neighbourhood, however they didn’t wake us up in the night. 

The entire house to ourselves, with a living area and a separate kitchen (no proper fridge though) cost us $15 per night. It was like the best deal.

Both my partner and me experienced cold symptoms while in Siargao so we rested for most of our stay there. The island is famous for surfing, shame we didn’t feel well enough to try. Maybe next time. We were about 3 km away from the surfing spot and our beach had very mild waves if any, as they were separated by natural coral reef. During low tide you could walk for even a couple of hundred meters into the water and pick up starfish on the way.

On the day of arrival to Siargao I went for a walk from the resort to the beach. There was a dog that followed me all the way there. I’m not too comfortable around dogs as they attacked me in the past. But that one seemed to want to just keep my companionship. He sat nearby where I put my towel down. When other (stray) dogs were coming too close, he would bark them off. When I went to the water, he would follow me and not let me go too deep. When I walked along the beach, he went with me. It was a unique experience as the dog was completely strange to me. He safely walked me back to Kermit resort after couple of hours. It turned out he belonged to the owners there. Animals are amazing creatures, they feel and bond just like humans.

General Luna town in itself felt to us a bit like a forgotten village. No tacky shops, no vendors nagging you to buy something, no thousands of tourists. Ok, a few expats. I can live with that. Instead there was a local market with fresh fish straight from the sea, a school where children would scream “hellllooooo” on top of their voices whenever they saw you and a church (did I mention that the Philippines is the only majorly catholic country in South East Asia?). The whole area surrounded by thousands of palm trees. I’ve never seen as many coconut trees as in Siargao. There were also a couple of really decent restaurants. Our favourite one became Surf’n’Dine, which served mainly Italian, American and Filipino food. Their pancakes were massive and were melting in your mouth, their lasagna – fantastic, spaghetti carbonara - dreamy. Since we discovered the place on our second or third day, we ate there almost every day. A couple of times we also bought fish from the market and brought it to a barbecue place to grill for us for a tiny fee. I mean, how much fresher can it get?

A few days into our stay when our cold/flu-like symptoms eased, we decided to rent a scooter and go on a road trip. We knew one lady who had given us her number in case we wanted to rent a bike. We tried calling her but she wasn’t picking up. So we walked along the main road into town. A habal-habal (long passenger motorbike) stopped by and asked if we needed a ride. We said we didn’t, we wanted to rent a bike ourselves. So he told us to hop on and took us straight to the place where he knew someone who rented motorbikes. The guy wanted to charge us $10 for a day but we managed to bargain it down to $8. How? I mentioned that shop lady who had given us her number a few days before and it turned out to be his business partner. In such a small island “everybody knows somebody”. Whoever asked us where we were staying, if we mentioned the owners names (Mirasol and Martin), they knew straight away who we were talking about.

The fuel was about $1 per liter. We first travelled to Dapa town, looking for a snorkel as my partner’s one was leaking. As we couldn’t find one (it is not a very tourist place, I told you), we rode to Magpupunko pool. We got caught in a pretty strong rain so we stopped in a village in the middle of nowhere. 5 or 10 children grew out of nowhere like, as we say in Poland, mushrooms in the rain, and started playing/ showing off in front of us. The competition was: who was going to get wetter and gets to dive in a deeper paddle. After the rain stopped, we continued to ride to Magpupungko pool. It is basically a natural pool of seawater that shows up when the tide is low. I’ve never seen something like that before. You walk through rocks and suddenly see that pool, meters away from the coastline. It had all shades of turquoise, green and blue. There was also a couple of interesting rock formations there. 1 rock was in the middle of the pool so people tempted to climb it up and jump from the cliff into the water. I wasn’t brave enough. While we were there, we met a friendly Filipino family from Manila. They had a property in Daco island – just a boat ride from Siargao. They told us to visit if we were around.

On our way back from the motorbike adventure we stopped by a café/pub, which was run by a Swiss expat. He had come to Siargao 10 years before and never left. I don’t blame him. The place is (still) unspoiled, has powdery white sand clean beaches, warm clear water and super friendly people. We rode through coconut tree forests, rice fields, remote villages and even found a lake in the mountains. See the pictures below. Why would you want to leave?

My partner’s scooter riding skills became better since our ride in Cambodia and we got back to General Luna soon after it got dark.  It’s ridiculous that nobody in Asia asks you for a riding license when you rent a motorbike.

On the following day we went on an island-hopping tour. We had our host – Bebet – take us to a couple of islands. The first one was Guyan island. It was so tiny you could walk around it in less than 10 min. All it had was coconut trees and sand. On one side of it the waves were rough and the water got deeper quickly. On the other side there were rocks, which made the water still there and perfect for snorkeling. We saw some beautiful fish there. Apparently the island belonged to someone but being on a deserted island, even for an hour, felt special.

Then we rode the boat to Daco island, which is just opposite of Siargao island. We made a decision to stay there for the rest of the day and asked Bebet to come and pick us up before sunset. The good side of the coastline there was that it was steeper, so even with a low tide you didn’t have to walk very far at all. It almost felt like sand dunes that you’d slide down to get into the water. The sand was extremely soft and powdery. We rented a hut (or more like a patio) for 300 pesos per day to give us some shade. It had a table and benches so it was a good place to eat, too. When we got hungry, we brought our fish to the local grill and they prepared it for us. Lunch with the view (you can see below), what else would you want from life?

In the afternoon we decided to find the Filipino family we had met by Magpupunko pool. It wasn’t too hard, the island was smaller than Siargao, and so everyone knows everyone.  Their house turned out to be a large property and the family was very happy to see us. We sat there for a while, chatting with them, drinking ice-cold water and eating avocado ice cream. Yummy! When it was time we went back to the “docking area” for the boats and travelled back to Siargao.

Ah, what a fulfilling stay it was. 

When people ask me what was my favourite place from the trip around South East Asia, I tell them: Siargao. 

We stayed there for a week, but didn't really want to leave. There were many places we fell in love with during our trip but Siargao has got now a special place in my heart.

Ps. I found my place to stay through AirBnB. If you would like to get a discount of 25$ on your first booking, please click here.

Thank you for reading.

Boogie

xxx

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Hello stranger! My name is Bogna, but you can call me Boogie. I come from Poland, but have lived in a few different countries, including UK and USA. In the past I have been a summer camp counsellor, special needs teacher, cruise ship photographer and  IT Support. I am the author of BoogiePlanet.com This website is all about the experiences I encounter in different cultures and the World I see through my lens. You can help me fulfill my dream to be a travel photographer and perhaps to inspire you to travel by liking my page on Facebook, or following me on Twitter


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Write a comment

Comments: 3
  • #1

    Mart (Tuesday, 11 October 2016 10:52)

    Thanks a lot for featuring us on your website. We're actually in the process of radically altering the house you stayed in. Upstairs will soon be an open plan apartment with glass frontage & sliding door with access downstairs to a new western spec bathroom /storage area/staircase. You can check our facebook page for photographs of the work which we'll be updating as the workers finish https://www.facebook.com/miramarresidencia
    We hope you return one day to the all new Residencia Miramar.

  • #2

    Bogna (Tuesday, 11 October 2016 21:54)

    Hi Martin,
    Lovely to hear from you! As you can tell from the post, we absolutely loved your place. I just hope it doesn't get too pimped and won't lose its rustic charm :) Also, hope I can afford to rent it when I come over again - maybe next year?
    How are you guys doing? And how is Bebet and his wife? Hope the baby is healthy and the rest of the family are happy.
    Ahh how much I miss that place! Best wishes from London,
    Bogna

  • #3

    Mart (Wednesday, 12 October 2016 01:22)

    Hi Bogna, Bebet and his family are all doing well; Noah is surfing really well these days and Abbie can catch a few waves too. The new baby is fine, but not surfing yet! Don't worry we're not really putting up the price that much (just to cover the running water costs) and the place will retain significant rustic charm alongside a much fresher, lighter, open plan feel. Just contact us ahead of time on airbnb and we'll send you a special offer, cheers Mart