Tourism to the res­cue

Tourism is the best way to help the coun­try bounce back af­ter ty­phoon Haiyan. most re­sorts and at­trac­tions are open and fully func­tional. Where do we start? a lo­cal writer rec­om­mends 10 places to visit.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By AYA LOWE

Af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion of Ty­phoon Haiyan, which hit six of the Philip­pines’ 7,000-plus is­lands, the ar­chi­pel­ago is in great need of a boost to its econ­omy. Tourism holds the key.

FOR a coun­try with thou­sands of idyl­lic is­lands, plus world-class surf­ing and div­ing, the Philip­pines is a rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered travel des­ti­na­tion. Tourism is cru­cial to the coun­try’s econ­omy, ac­count­ing for 8% of its GDP, but com­pare the Bri­tish visi­tor num­bers – 120,000 in 2012 – to those of Thai­land (800,000 per year) and you get some idea of just how far off the radar this vast ar­chi­pel­ago is.

Last month, of course, the coun­try was firmly in the world’s sights when Ty­phoon Haiyan caused wide­spread de­struc­tion across the prov­inces of Leyte and eastern Sa­mar on the mid-eastern side of the Philip­pines and some parts of Palawan and Cebu on the mid­west­ern side. The storm caused havoc on six of the coun­try’s 7,107 is­lands.

How­ever, while the ar­eas in the path of the ty­phoon were dev­as­tated, much of the coun­try was not dam­aged. Most re­sorts and tourist at­trac­tions are open and fully func­tional, and those that were hit are quickly get­ting back on their feet in the run-up to De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, two of their busiest months of the year.

The tourist board and tour op­er­a­tors are re­as­sur­ing vis­i­tors that the coun­try is safe, and in need of a vi­tal boost to the econ­omy via tourism. Those who go will re­ceive a very warm wel­come.

So, how do you choose which of those 7,000-plus is­lands to visit? Here’s our guide to 10 is­lands, each of­fer­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Chill out in El Nido, Palawan

This jun­gle beach town on the north­ern tip of Palawan hasn’t changed much since be­fore Span­ish coloni­sa­tion and has been cited as Alex Gar­land’s travel novel The Beach.

Ex­plore the many islets of the nearby Bacuit ar­chi­pel­ago on a boat-hopping tour, where the wa­ter is so clear that you can see the fish dart­ing in be­tween co­ral at 15m deep. Prices range from around £17-£20 (RM90- RM106) per day for a tour and that usu­ally in­cludes lunch. There is grilled seafood in abun­dance across the is­land.

Palawan was one of the is­lands in the path of Ty­phoon Haiyan, how­ever, it was only the city of Coron and the nearby is­land com­mu­ni­ties that were hit. El Nido has not suf­fered any dam­age and the sur­round­ing co­ral reefs are in­tact, with only very shal­low ones sus­tain­ing dam­age.

Shake your tail feather in Bo­ra­cay

With end­less beaches of pow­dery-white sand, long happy hours, abun­dance of restau­rants and ho­tels to suit all bud­gets, and plenty of wa­ter­sports, Bo­ra­cay is the party is­land.

It has 12 beaches, the most pop­u­lar be­ing White beach and Bu­la­bog. The is­land is di­vided up into “boat sta­tions”, which are used as ref­er­ence points.

Sta­tion 1 in the north is known for its high­end re­sorts and tran­quil­lity; Sta­tion 2 is the liveli­est part; and Sta­tion 3 is where all the bud­get ac­com­mo­da­tion can be found. While many lo­cals look back long­ingly at the good old days of the 1970s – be­fore the ho­tels and restau­rants started spring­ing up – Bo­ra­cay is still a “Phuket” in its in­fancy.

There was some storm dam­age to the is­land. Elec­tric­ity still re­mains a prob­lem for many parts of the is­land, but most ho­tels are up and run­ning with gen­er­a­tors.

Unesco World Her­itage: Batanes

The Batanes Is­lands are found on the very north­ern tip of the Philip­pines ar­chi­pel­ago, a land of gently slop­ing hills, thatched-roof houses and lo­cals who wear tra­di­tional straw hats.

With weather rem­i­nis­cent of driz­zly Bri­tish sum­mers, lo­cals visit the is­lands for some respite from the trop­i­cal heat, while tourists go there for a com­pletely dif­fer­ent is­land ex­pe­ri­ence from the rest of the Philip­pines.

To get around, rent a bi­cy­cle or book a tour with a com­pany, such as Batanes Travel and

Tours , which charges £211 (RM1,113) for a three-day trip in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, trans­port and guide.

Dive site: Banaue, North Lu­zon

North Lu­zon, the big­gest is­land of the Philip­pines, is a land of misty moun­tains, where pines re­place palm trees. Head to Banaue and Batad to ad­mire the 2,000year-old rice ter­races etched along plung­ing ravines. The 20,000km Unesco-listed ter­races still pro­vide a liveli­hood for the var­i­ous tribal groups that con­tinue to live in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion in the moun­tains.

Treks along the rice ter­races to var­i­ous vil­lages and wa­ter­falls can be or­gan­ised through the Banaue Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre. Ex­pect to pay around £10 (RM53) for a guide

for a whole day.

Co­ral mounds of Bo­hol

Lo­cated just off Cebu, Bo­hol’s most fa­mous at­trac­tion is the sur­real Cho­co­late Hills: over 1,500 mounds formed by co­ral de­posits sculpted by a mil­len­nia of ero­sion. De­pend­ing on the sea­son, they will ei­ther be green or brown.

The is­land’s fa­mous res­i­dent is the cam­era-shy tar­sier, the world’s small­est mon­key. Visit them in their pro­tected en­clo­sure at the Philip­pines Tar­sier Foun­da­tion.

Don’t visit them in the cages kept along the river; they are mis­treated and don’t live long there. Ei­ther hire a mo­tor­bike or book a tour from a lo­cal com­pany, such as Bo­hol Travel Tours, for around £35 (RM185) with car, guide and lunch.

In Oc­to­ber this year, the is­land suf­fered from a 7.2-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that de­stroyed many houses. Two weeks af­ter that, Bo­hol was back on its feet, draw­ing in the tourists as nor­mal. The is­land was also hit by Ty­phoon Haiyan, but sus­tained lit­tle dam­age to its in­fra­struc­ture.

Tour op­er­a­tors and ho­tels re­main fully open. The main is­sue be­ing tack­led by the is­land’s au­thor­ity is limited power sup­ply, which is slowly but surely get­ting fixed.

Surf’s up in Siar­gao

Fac­ing the Pa­cific Ocean, just north of the is­land of Min­danao, is Siar­gao, one of the Philip­pines’ surf sites. The town sees a steady stream of ded­i­cated surfers who ar­rive to chal­lenge them­selves on the is­land’s fa­mous Cloud 9 reef break.

The small beach­side town hosts a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional surf­ing com­pe­ti­tions ev­ery year, which make it a busy place dur­ing surf sea­son, but com­pletely dead when the waves are down. Novices can hire train­ers, who you can find on the beach, for around £7 (RM37) per hour, or you can book a pack­age from a surf ho­tel, such as Ker­mit Surf Re­sort, which has a deal for £394 (RM2,080) per per­son per week, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, trans­fers and one-to-one surf lessons.

Off the beaten track: Camiguin Is­land

This pear-shaped vol­canic is­land, just off the north­ern tip of Min­danao, is of­ten by­passed be­cause of var­i­ous Is­lamist up­ris­ings that have been re­ported on Min­danao. How­ever, Camiguin it­self has never had any in­ci­dents and those who make the ef­fort to travel there are re­warded with an is­land barely touched by tourism.

For such a small land­mass, this tiny is­land packs quite a punch, its 29,187ha in­clud­ing seven vol­ca­noes. It also of­fers good div­ing through an eerie sunken ceme­tery, wa­ter­falls, a la­goon, and hot and cold springs. All of these can be reached eas­ily by foot, or you can hire a mo­tor­bike (£11/RM58 a day with a driver, £7/RM37 with­out).

Tra­di­tion in Sigu­i­jor

The mag­i­cal Siqui­jor is both feared and revered by lo­cals. It’s the place to go, if you’re look­ing for a boroboro, or witch doc­tor. The Pro­vin­cial Tourism Depart­ment has a list of “of­fi­cial heal­ers”, or just ask any lo­cal and they’ll be able to point you in the right di­rec­tion. You’ll need to rent a tri­cy­cle (a lo­cal motor taxi) for around £14 (RM74) for half a day, as most of the heal­ers live high up in the moun­tains.

These witch doc­tors or heal­ers wel­come pay­ing vis­i­tors – but be po­lite and re­spect­ful as it is an age-old tra­di­tion that is widely be­lieved by lo­cals. Away from all the magic, it’s also a beau­ti­ful is­land for re­lax­ing, snorkelling and div­ing.

Scuba-div­ing in Min­doro

Good div­ing spots are a dime a dozen in the Philip­pines, but the best scuba-div­ing spots can be a bit harder to reach. Apo Reef is one of them. A mostly sunken atoll, two hours off the west coast of Min­doro, the 40sqkm reef is fa­mous among the div­ing com­mu­nity for its abun­dance of larger crea­tures, such as sharks, rays and sea tur­tles.

Most divers stay on Pan­dan Is­land (a 20-minute boat ride from Min­doro) and, from there, ac­cess the reef via a three-hour boat ride. Apo Reef Club is one of the dive op­er­a­tors clos­est to the reef. A pack­age of five dives, in­clud­ing two night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­fers, costs £212 (RM1,120).

Go hik­ing in Davao, Min­danao

Davao is the big­gest city on the is­land of Min­danao, an area that is scarce of tourists due to the afore­men­tioned Is­lamist in­sur­gen­cies. Davao City is widely re­garded as a safe haven on the is­land and has been ranked as one of the best places to live in the coun­try. This is where the durian orig­i­nates from. It is also home to the rare Philip­pine ea­gle (pay a visit to the Philip­pine Ea­gle Cen­tre for an ed­u­ca­tional tour).

The is­land’s crown jewel, how­ever, is the coun­try’s tallest peak and semi-ac­tive vol­cano, Mount Apo. A 2,956m climb to the top will take you through the full spec­trum of Filipino bio­di­ver­sity, from steamy jun­gle to pine forests, and belch­ing sul­phuric vents.

Join a group tour with Climb Mt Apo for £56 (RM296) per per­son. If you go in­de­pen­dently you will need a per­mit from the city hall in Santa Cruz, an hour south of Davao (con­tact Julius Paner, +63 2 441 1467). The per­mit costs £4 (RM21) per per­son. You can then hire a free­lance guide and/or porter at a rate of £4 (RM21) per day for the porter and £7 (RM37) per day for the guide.

The per­mit of­fice will be able to put you in touch with a cer­ti­fied porter and guide. — Guardian News & Me­dia

Clear wa­ters: El Nido in Palawan, the Philip­pines. Palawan was in the

path of Ty­phoon Haiyan but only Coron city and the nearby is­land com­mu­ni­ties were af­fected. El Nido was not dam­aged, and most of the sur­round­ing co­ral reefs are still in­tact. — Photo from Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Idyl­lic: the rolling hills of batanes, a unesco World Her­itage Site. — Pho­tos from Wiki­me­dia com­mons

the 2,000-year-old rice ter­races etched along plung­ing ravines in banaue.

the cho­co­late Hills in bo­hol Prov­ince. de­pend­ing on the sea­son, they may be green or brown.

a beach in the North of min­doro, close to Sa­bang.

coast­line of camiguin is­land

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