Sunday, October 20, 2013


When we started planning our golden week holiday, I told Chris I wanted a trip to the beach where I could comfortably do nothing and not get bored.  Dos Palmas Island in the Philippines is that place!

Located about a one-hour boat ride from Puerto Princessa, Dos Palmas Island is home to the naturally breathtaking Dos Palmas resort.   If you are looking for a rocking party, Dos Palmas is not the place for you.  The beach villas do not have TVs or Internet, so make sure to bring a good book or three.  (Luckily there was wireless Internet access around the front desk area so I was not completely cut off from the world.) There is only one restaurant on the island, so you will be eating off the same menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for your entire stay.  Fortunately, the menu had a wide variety of both Western and Asian food so it was possible to stay for 5 days and not eat the same meal twice. 

We had lots of good meals in the island restaurant.  Every time the staff took our picture, they would say, "Uno, dos, palmas!"
If you enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, cycling, billiards, darts, and spa treatments Dos Palmas is the place for you! 

Our friend, Uwe, greets us in a kayak.

When we arrived, a very warm, attentive staff led us to our beach villa. 

We stayed in a clean, no frills room for the week.  FYI, there are no TVs or radios in the Beach Villas. 
The island had thousands of beautiful flowers.
These boats were the preferred method of transportation for the week.
After our 24 hour trip to the island, I was ready to settle in, grab lunch, and do nothing in the sun.  I am proud to say that is what I did, except I wasn’t completely idle.

Much of our time was spent in the pool that overlooked the sea.  

Chris and I spent a couple of mornings snorkeling.  Dos Palmas is located near a beautiful reef.  A complimentary snorkel guide showed us the underwater beauty.

Our guide also helped us play with starfish.

The underwater sights were breathtaking.
If you plan to snorkel, I highly recommend purchasing an underwater camera before the trip.   
I have some fun with a starfish.

We fed the fish a few pieces of bread.  At times, I felt like I was swimming in an aquarium. 

Vivian had a great time snorkeling too!

While on the island, I met a new friend James who also happens to be a Boilermaker too!  It really is a small world!

Sunset on the beach was gorgeous.  Chris sends out an unnecessary SOS.

Vivian relaxes in the Kayak.

We clowned around during sunset. 
On Friday we decided to explore Palawan, so we took an excursion to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

On the way to the underground river, we stopped at Ligong Rock Adventures for a little caving and zip line fun.

The last time I had been in a cave was in the 5th grade at The College School.  After a crazy overnight campout in a cave, I never thought I would go caving again.

The rocks were slippery, which made for a difficult climb.

Some of the passages were quite snug.  I have the bruises on my leg to prove it.
The climb was worth the effort, however.  When we reached the top of the mountain, we zip-lined down!  I felt like I was flying through the jungle.
Uwe prepares for his flight down the zip line.

After zip lining, we arrived at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  They had monkeys who welcomed us!

We piled in a boat to float through another cave!

As we approached the cave, we could see little bird like creatures flying in circles. 

The stalagmites and stalactites were awesome, but I spent the entire boat ride wondering if a bat was going to buzz my head.  The little brown things hanging upside down were bats.
We had a great time relaxing with our Bosch crew!  After six days in the sun, it was time to head back to Shanghai.  

I will never forget Dos Palmas!

About one week after we left the Philippines, the central Philippine Islands were struck by Typhoon Nari and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.  At least 144 lives were lost and many homes, churches, and businesses were completely destroyed.  I cannot imagine how so many people who already lived in extreme poverty will be able to resume their normal lives. This post is dedicated to the many victims who are rebuilding their lives. To learn more about the Red Cross' effort to aid quake victims, please click here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Boats, and Lessons I Learned While Traveling to the Philippines

During the first week of October, many Chinese folks shut down shop to celebrate National Holiday.  For this holiday, Chris and I decided to make a trip to Palawan Island, Philippines for six days of relaxing in the sun with our Bosch China crew.  Before we kicked back, however, we made a 24-hour trip on three planes, three cars, one train, and a boat!  In order to reach our resort, we had to fly to Puerto Princessa via Hong Kong and Manila.

The trip started on a sunny Monday.  After I finished teaching my first graders, I zoomed out of school and stopped at a Bank of China ATM to pull out some RMB to trade for Pesos, and met up with Chris at the Maglev.  We sped to the Pudong Airport, and herded ourselves through security and immigration. 

Lesson #1- everyone and their brother wants to leave China during golden week.  Don’t think you will avoid long immigration lines by leaving the day before the national holiday actually begins.

 After a good 45 minutes in Immigration we raced to the currency exchange to pick up Philippine Pesos.
“I’m sorry.  We have sold out of Philippine Pesos. “ the teller offered.
“WHAT?” we asked in unison
“Many people travel to the Philippines during the National Holiday.  We do not have any pesos.  I am sorry.”

Lesson #2- When traveling to the Philippines, get Pesos BEFORE you go to the airport.  

My brain immediately went into overdrive.  I wasn’t sure if the currency exchange would be open by the time we reached Manila, so I decided to get some cash in Hong Kong just in case of emergency. 

I found the 200 Peso note to be oddly hilarious and creepy at the same time.  What is that animal?
The main terminal of the Hong Kong airport has some of the best duty free shopping I have ever seen.   It also has Bo Jangles, a mediocre Italian Restaurant, and some pretty cool museum quality exhibits in the concourse.

I really enjoyed the Cantonese Opera exhibit right next to my gate.

After my quick fried chicken dinner, we hopped on a plane to Manilla. 

Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila is the most confusing airport I have ever experienced.  There was no rope maze for immigration, so people made cluster lines.

FYI, a no "Wang Wang" Zone means no one cuts in line.  A rope maze would have been EXTREMELY helpful! :) 
I was sad that I couldn't sell my Philippine Disembarkation card. 
After waiting in the slowest cluster, we finally made it to the immigration window.

Lesson #3- When traveling through the Philippines make sure you have a copy of your itinerary with your passport and disembarkation slip.  If you don’t have it, someone else will print it, and you will hold up the line. 

Luckily, the currency exchange was still open after our hour-long wait in immigration so we were able to get some cash!

Lesson #4- If you don’t get Pesos beforehand, the Manila airport does have a currency exchange.  Wait to get cash until you arrive there.

At 1:00 am, I was thrilled to arrive at our hotel for a three-hour nap.  Our next flight was early the next morning!

At 4:30, I rolled out of bed, and took a cab to the domestic terminal of the airport.
Our cab driver dropped us off at the domestic terminal at the airport, where we had to go through security to simply check in.

Lesson #5- the domestic terminal of the Manila airport is a 20 minute taxi ride away from the international terminal.  If you are planning on making a domestic connecting flight, make SURE you allow for an additional hour for the transfer.   Also if you are transferring from a domestic to an international flight, you will need to collect your luggage at the baggage claim, catch a cab to the international terminal, and recheck your luggage.

We shuffled in the Philippine Airline line to check in for our flight.  As we checked in our bags, we were told that we had to pay for our luggage because it exceeded the 10 kg limit.  The ticket agent then told us we had to pay 200 Pesos ($4) for our overage.  Chris went to the other end of the ticket counter to pay for our overage.  He came back livid.

Lesson #6- When flying Philippine Airlines, you can prepay for your overweight bags.  If you pay before you check in, you will pay 200 Pesos.  If you pay while you check in, you will pay 200 Pesos per KG. 

Our mood improved after we herded through security (again).  The Manila airport had Krispy Kreme and Cinnabon!   I had no idea these chains existed in Asia!! 

They had some seriously fancy doughnuts.  I was SO happy for a taste of home!
After nearly losing Chris’ iPhone, we boarded the plane and took a 1-hour flight to Puerto Princessa, Palawan. 

The Puerto Princessa Airport was tiny!

People were walking all around the runway.  I think the airport had 2 gates.

I guess the avian flu scare is still alive and well!
In order to reach our resort, we had to take a one-hour boat ride from Puerto Princessa to Dos Palmas.  Unfortunately the ferry left the pier only three times daily, so Chris and I hung out in the Dos Palmas office for two hours.

Lesson #7- When booking your trip to Palawan, book your hotel BEFORE you book your flights.  This way you can coordinate your flights with your hotel transportation.

We finally boarded a van for a 30-minute ride to the pier and took a 1-hour boat ride to Dos Palmas.  When I boarded the boat, I finally felt like vacation was starting! 

The boats were relatively small, so we were required to wear life vests on board.  The Gilligan's Island theme song played in my head during the entire ride.
When we arrived at the island we were greeted with wooden leis and papaya juice.  The beach and resort were definitely worth the travel hassle!  :)

We were so happy to arrive at the resort! 
Let the vacation begin!!