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In­ter­ested in hav­ing your pho­to­graphic work recog­nised?*

pull off from the black sand beach on a bangka (an elon­gated wooden boat), head­ing south­east to­wards Apo Is­land, a tiny green speck on the hori­zon. Within min­utes of leav­ing shore, At­lantis Re­sort van­ishes be­hind the nar­row shore­line amidst the tall, sway­ing co­conut trees. The is­land be­comes its own sea of green, set against a dra­matic back­drop: The peaks of the dor­mant vol­cano Bukid Tali­nis ( bukid mean­ing “moun­tain”) tow­er­ing at 1,903 me­tres above sea level, reach into a cloud­less sky. From this van­tage point, it’s hard to be­lieve nearly 30,000 peo­ple live here, in Dauin, as you can see lit­tle sign of hu­man life once you’re a mile off­shore.

Apo means “grand­child” in Taga­log, the Philip­pines’ na­tional lan­guage, and so this small is­land is re­ferred to as the “grand­child” of Ne­gros. Less than a square kilo­me­tre in size, the is­land is sur­rounded by the Philip­pines’ first com­mu­nity-or­gan­ised marine re­serve, estab­lished in the late 1980s. It is home to nearly 1,000 peo­ple; the waters hug­ging its shores boast 650 doc­u­mented species of fish and over 400 species of corals, al­low­ing divers the op­por­tu­nity to see the ma­jor­ity of the 450 co­ral species in­dige­nous to the archipelago. The reef is healthy and colour­ful, with a va­ri­ety of both hard and soft corals. While snorkelling, we spot jack­fish, bar­racuda, a banded sea snake and hawks­bill tur­tles.

Just seven kilo­me­tres away from this diver’s par­adise is the south­east­ern tip of Ne­gros Is­land in Ne­gros Ori­en­tal Prov­ince. Ne­gros is the fourth largest is­land in the Philip­pines, home to four mil­lion peo­ple – only two per­cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion of around 100 mil­lion peo­ple, spread around its 7,641 is­lands. This lush vol­canic is­land of­fers an abun­dance of lit­tle ex­plored ter­res­trial and aquatic won­ders, and a laid­back en­vi­ron­ment without hordes of tourists.

The name of the is­land is hardly po­lit­i­cally cor­rect in con­tem­po­rary times; when the Spa­niards ar­rived in April 1565, they named it af­ter the is­land’s orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants, the negri­tos (which trans­lates to “lit­tle black peo­ple”). The vol­canic land is in­cred­i­bly fer­tile, but there are only two com­mer­cial farm­ing in­dus­tries: sug­ar­cane (Ne­gros pro­duces half of the Philip­pines’ sugar) and co­conut.

We The reef is healthy and colour­ful, with a va­ri­ety of both hard and soft corals. While snorkelling, we spot jack­fish, bar­racuda, a banded sea snake and hawks­bill tur­tles

We visit Sil­li­man Univer­sity – a pres­ti­gious pri­vate school boast­ing a small an­thro­pol­ogy mu­seum with a mag­nif­i­cent gem col­lec­tion – and the old­est bell tower in the Visayas. Driv­ing along the coastal boule­vard, we sam­ple sil­vanas, a tasty frozen meringue-like cookies with lay­ers of but­ter­cream, coated with crumbs. This Du­maguete spe­cialty is the gift of choice Filipinos take home from Ne­gros, and so the air­port’s de­par­ture ter­mi­nal is pep­pered with peo­ple car­ry­ing the sig­na­ture blue-and-white cookie car­tons.

The Philip­pines con­sists of six unique bio­geo­graph­i­cal ar­eas – groups of is­lands once con­nected. Dur­ing the last Ice Age, a 120-me­tre drop in ocean lev­els led to their sep­a­ra­tion, iso­lat­ing var­i­ous species such as the now-en­dan­gered Visayan spot­ted deer and the Visayan warty pig, as well as var­i­ous small birds. It’s heaven for Na­ture en­thu­si­asts, and avid or­nithol­o­gists can get their binoc­u­lars out at Twin Lakes – two crater lakes at the foot of Mount Tali­nis – with over 114 bird species in­dige­nous to this area, in­clud­ing the en­dan­gered Ne­gros bleed­ing-heart and the Visayan wrin­kled horn­bill. Our in­cred­i­bly knowl­edge­able guide, Jake, from the Ne­gros Ori­en­tal Tourism Of­fice, iden­ti­fies all va­ri­ety of whis­tles ema­nat­ing from the canopy branches.

If you’re lucky enough to be vis­it­ing at the time of the full moon, visit the Man­juyod sand­bar, a pris­tine strip of white sand that is only ex­posed dur­ing ex­tremely low tides in the Tañon Strait. If you’d like to rent one of the ba­sic stilted struc­tures for the day (or the night), you’ll need to co­or­di­nate your trip in ad­vance with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Oth­er­wise, rent a pri­vate boat for the day from the nearby town of Bais, and com­bine your trip with a dol­phin watch­ing ex­cur­sion.

A 30-minute drive from Du­maguete takes us to the town of Dauin, from where you take an ex­quis­ite muck div­ing trip. Here, an abun­dance of cool crit­ters can be found, such as frog­fish and or­nate ghost pipefish. Of­fer­ing easy dive con­di­tions, this is a per­fect spot to learn to dive, but it’s also an un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher’s haven, with ex­cel­lent con­di­tions to cap­ture unique marine crit­ters, such as flam­boy­ant cut­tle­fish eggs hatch­ing.

At­lantis Re­sort is well po­si­tioned to see the best of Ne­gros Ori­en­tal. It’s nestled in a trop­i­cal gar­den look­ing out over the sea. From here, it’s easy to get to Apo Is­land, Dauin, and Du­maguete. For food, check out Tokos and Fin­bar in Dauin, and Kri in Du­maguete. Visit www.at­lantishotel.com

Du­maguete is lo­cated on the south­ern tip of Ne­gros Is­land, 500 kilo­me­tres south of Manila, and 110 kilo­me­tres from Cebu. There are daily flights from Manila and Cebu. From Cebu City or Liloan Port you can also take a ferry to Du­maguete. The best way to get around Ne­gros is to rent a car. Try Kabayan Car Rental: www.kabayan­rentals.com. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit the Ne­gros Ori­en­tal Tourism Of­fice www.ne­gros­tourism.com

WHERE HOW

Both coun­tries have strug­gled with man­ag­ing their re­spec­tive mul­ti­eth­nic de­mo­graph­ics, but their dis­parate ap­proaches were a sig­nif­i­cant source of con­flict dur­ing the merger months. The del­i­cate bal­ance of eth­nic Malay and Chi­nese in­ter­ests con­tin­ues to be a sen­si­tive topic, with Malaysian na­tion­al­ism im­bued in the Bu­mi­put­era pol­icy of pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion – par­tic­u­larly in the face of Sin­ga­pore’s eth­nic Chi­nese ma­jor­ity.

To­day, Malaysia has di­ver­si­fied its pro­duc­tion-based econ­omy. Un­der the Na­jib ad­min­is­tra­tion, the state is work­ing to­wards grow­ing do­mes­tic mar­kets. A so­phis­ti­cated reg­u­la­tory regime shields the coun­try from fi­nan­cial risk and global crises, but vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the ever-im­por­tant ex­port sec­tor re­mains, es­pe­cially in electronics, oil, gas, palm oil and rub­ber. Na­jib’s propo­si­tions to re­duce the pref­er­en­tial treat­ment af­forded to eth­nic Malays were pre­dictably met with do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion, de­spite their po­ten­tial to at­tract for­eign in­vestors.

Un­like Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore has lit­tle to of­fer in the way of nat­u­ral re­sources, but has in­stead drawn her econ­omy from its strate­gic po­si­tion as a port. While also largely de­pen­dent on ex­ports, the coun­try spe­cialises in con­sumer electronics, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and fi­nan­cial ser­vices. Led by Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong, ef­forts to re­verse a re­cent growth slump are un­der­way, with projects in place to train lo­cals for po­si­tions cur­rently filled by for­eign­ers. Sin­ga­pore main­tains her sta­tus as the fi­nan­cial and high-tech hub of South­east Asia, at­trac­tive to in­vestors ow­ing to po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and ap­par­ent low lev­els of cor­rup­tion. ag

The Par­ties While both coun­tries de­clare them­selves democ­ra­cies, they re­main tar­gets of me­dia crit­i­cism for au­to­cratic prac­tices

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Con­grat­u­la­tions to our win­ner Sirsendu Gayen.

Apo Is­land is a short hop from the Ne­gros Ori­en­tal cap­i­tal of Du­maguete

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