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Eandd's packed trip to Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand Three weeks in Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand

I've been reading the DansDeals forum for a while, but my first real post!

Planning:
Firstly a disclaimer: being very, very new to credit cards and points, this entire trip was paid for out of our pockets

My husband and I got married in the summer, and since we both love to travel we were hoping to go somewhere extra special for our honeymoon. When the cheap Hong Kong flights came up last summer, I jumped on them keeping in mind the beautiful Asian countries in the vicinity. We’re all about beautiful nature and less about city, so we planned on spending very little time in Hong Kong. I’d seen very enticing pictures of the Philippines, but there was very little (kosher) information online. I knew I wanted to go to Thailand as well. We decided that three weeks during our long college winter break would be enough time to see all three countries. After doing A LOT of research I realized that there was A LOT to see and do in the Philippines, that travel within the country would take up a lot of time, and that we would need to take A LOT of flights.  I knew that I was hooked on visiting Palawan after seeing the unbelievably gorgeous pictures on many travel blogs, and since I couldn’t decide between Coron and El Nido, we settled on visiting both. The cute Tarsiers and Chocolate Hills of Bohol became our other destination in the Philippines. I’d originally planned on hiking the Taal Volcano during the day in Manila we had in between Palawan and Bohol, but we realized a few days into the trip that we would need the time for a bit of relaxing from all the travel. With regard to Thailand, the descriptions of Koh Lipe were very appealing, however I knew that after the Philippines we would not be up to all the different modes of transportation that it entails. So I decided that we would spend a week in Phuket and Khao Lak, and a weekend in Bangkok.

Flights: I ignored all the bad reviews of Cebu Pacific and AirAsia and booked all the domestic and international flights (besides for the China Eastern between Hong Kong) with them. Contrary to all the reviews that they constantly are being delayed, out of our many flights only one was delayed and we managed to get on an earlier one anyways.

Hotels: The hotels were mostly very cheap guesthouses that were booked through Agoda, although I did make sure to find ones with very good reviews. All were clean and most exceeded our expectations. Booking a couple of months in advance for both hotels and flights definitely made a difference price- wise, especially since we were travelling during the very high season.
 
Food: At the time, the Chabad Houses in the Philippines were located in Manila, Cebu and Clark therefore we planned on bringing our own food for the time that we would spend in the Philippines. We figured that in Thailand we would rely on the Chabad restaurants for most of our meals. We packed one suitcase dedicated to food that included lots of protein bars, nature valley bars, meal mart and labriute shelf stable meals, meat sticks, oatmeal packets, soup cups, lots of crackers, packs of peanut butter, salmon sleeves and cans etc. Turns out we literally did not find anything kosher in the locations that we visited (besides for the occasional kosher snickers bar or Pringles can). We were planning on spending the one Shabbos we would be in the Philippines alone, since there wasn’t supposed to be a Chabad house in Palawan. We were in luck however, as we found out at the Chabad of Kowloon, a Chabad couple had moved to El Nido a couple of weeks before, intending on opening a Chabad house there. It was so nice to be able to spend our Shabbos with them and their Israeli backpacker guests.

Activities: After reading lots and lots of trip reports, forums, guidebooks, and everything else I could get my hands on, I had a very good idea of what we wanted to see/do. I noticed that it would not be necessary to book anything in advance, and actually that ended up saving us A LOT of money. More details to follow.

The actual day to day report of what we did is taking a lot of time to write, so figured I would post this first and the rest is to follow sometime is the nearish future.

January 31, 2017, 09:39:02 PM
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Re: Eandd's packed trip to Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand Thanks for the nice comments!

I’m going to skip the Hong Kong part of our trip since there’s a lot on here already, and we didn’t stay there for long anyhow. However I will mention that we stayed in Kowloon, and ate at the Chabad of Kowloon for both meals. The food was amazing, the people warm and friendly; we just had an overall very good experience.

Sat night We flew Hong Kong to Manila via Cebu Pacific with a very uneventful flight. The highlight was meeting some very friendly Filipinos that live in the US that gave us lots of travel advice. The one thing that scared me before this trip was the stories I’d heard about parts of Manila being very dangerous and the taxi driver scams. We were told to just avoid taxis by sticking to Uber or Grab (an app similar to Uber that was made for Asian countries) and to stay near the airport or in Makati while in Manila. Another tip for Manila is that the different terminals are located in completely different areas, so be sure to make note of where your flight is arriving/leaving from, especially if you’re there on a stopover.

Sun-Wed  We’d stayed in a guesthouse near terminal four so that we wouldn’t have a long drive to catch our flight to Coron. The traffic in Manila is notoriously crazy and unpredictable and we didn’t want to deal with it. Terminal four does not look like any airport I’ve ever been to but it works. Also what was cool about all our domestic Philippines flights was that you walk onto the tarmac to board the plane.I should mention here that there will be a common thread running through this trip report or terminal fees. Whenever we flew or took a ferry, there was a terminal fee. And besides for those, plan for entrance fees at unexpected places. 

The very scenic flight to Coron is on a small propeller plane, only about one hour long. I should mention that there are no flights to Coron after four because there are no lights on the runway, so by us booking the last flight of the day we were chancing it getting canceled until the next day (which supposedly happens often.) The airport there is the size of a room, and walking out you encounter the shared tourist vans that all charge a standard price of 150 php per person to drive you to your hotel. Our driver decided to first drop off a family in the opposite direction of the main Coron town where we were staying, and then go back to the airport to pick up some friends of his that he would drop off in town; it made for a very long trip. I won’t go into details about the places we stayed, but if anyone needs recommendations for cheap but nice accommodations please pm me.

The town of Coron is tiny and very third – world looking (to my limited experience at least.) All the roads look like alleyways; there are chickens and dogs roaming the streets, and garbage all over the place. For delicious and cheap fruits and vegetables, get directions to the market which is right near the pier where all the island hopping boats leave from. The mangoes are insane!

We booked our two island hopping tours through our guesthouse, and that seemed to be the cheapest option in town. Make sure to shop around because there are a lot of tour agencies and a lot of different prices. We did ‘Tour C’ or the three island tour on the first day, which was 1250 and the Coron Island ultimate tour (combines tours A and B) for 1500 php on the second day. You get picked up by a tricycle (metal contraption attached to a motorcycle) that drives you to the pier where you board the spidery looking  banka boat. Boarding the boat can be scary, where you walk down a thin plank suspended between the pier and the bow of the boat with a bamboo pole held by the boat crew to hold on to. I don’t know how anyone older or with poor balance and mobility would be able to make it across. The first tour took us on a long one and a half hour boat ride to bulog dos, banana and Malacapuya islands where there’s snorkeling and beautiful beaches. On Malacapuya we paid a guy to chop the top off a coconut so we could drink the juice inside. The second tour was our favorite with a much shorter boat ride to the locations, and more stops then the first. We saw a gorgeous lagoon, the famous Kayangan Lake, much better snorkeling and two more stops that I can’t remember. On both tours they served a huge buffet lunch which we couldn’t partake of because we keep kosher. We tried asking them before the tour to leave some of the fruit uncut for us, but they didn’t really understand so we just brought our own.

On our third day there we spent the morning walking around town buying souvenirs (make sure bargain!) , and then took the Montenegro Lines ferry to El Nido in the afternoon (1750 php per person , make sure you don’t get charged more.) There are a few ferries that make the trip to El Nido, however this particular line is the only one that takes 3.5 hours instead of about 7 hours. We were nervous that all the seats would be booked up for the day we wanted to leave, but buying the tickets from a random tour agency on the street the night before turned out to be perfectly fine. The boat is modern looking with very comfortable seats (and a terminal fee ) . The ride though was extremely choppy, with the boat rocking very high from side to side. Although I’ve never gotten seasick in my life (and I’ve ridden on numerous boats before) I did on this trip. We arrived in El Nido after almost four hours, and took a trike to our guest house (which almost couldn’t hold our two suitcases and carryon-the trikes in El Nido are much smaller than their Coron counterparts)

With regard to pictures, I still haven’t gone through them, so will try to upload later (although I know it’s much easier to have them in line with the text. )
TBC!

February 01, 2017, 10:26:51 AM
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Unexpected RTW: JFK-MLE-BKK-SYD-MEL-BNE-CHC-JFK I mostly lurk on the forums, but really enjoy reading trip reports. I will make as much of an effort as I can to finish this one!

Introduction and Planning

While on last year’s big vacation, we met a sweet Australian family from Perth at the Phuket chabad, whose descriptions of Western Australia convinced me that I would need to find my way there this year. Our student lifestyle would never have supported such a trip; thankfully I began to vigorously “play” the credit card game about a year ago. As the year moved along, I became obsessed with the white sand beaches and gorgeous scenery, but realized that a WA road trip would need at least two weeks, and I NEEDED to see the swirling sand of Whitehaven beach. Unfortunately our time off would never allow for such a long trip. Instead, I settled on….the Conrad Maldives. We accumulated Hilton points specifically for this, and random other points for the flight redemptions. I took months to play around with dates, order of locations; should we fly to Israel, then to Maldives and then to AUS? Or to Asia first? Interviews for PA school in Oct/Nov forced us to push off the vacation to mid-winter time, and my husband’s hatred towards beaches influenced me to eventually add New Zealand South Island to the list. I realized that we were planning on seeing too much: Maldives, Sydney, Airlie Beach, and NZ in two and a half weeks! I regretfully chopped off Whitehaven beach (which ended up being fine because the Conrad was GORGEOUS.)

The first booking was for the Conrad, prompted by the 95,000 point redemption for a water villa in mid December. Once the trip dates for finalized, all the other bookings started trickling in; this was in January for an early February trip! (we have commitment issues…)
Order and dates and destinations were changed numerous times, and this was the final product (All flights in economy, and points are per person):

JFK-SVO-MLE- 25k Merrill lynch points
   Conrad Maldives 3 nights
MLE-BKK- (For Shabbos)  Cheap AirAsia flight
BKK-CGK-SYD- 40k delta miles
   Park Hyatt Sydney 1 night
SYD-AVV-cheap Jetstar flight
   Four Points Melbourne  (10k spg) 1 night
MEL-BNE- 15k Asia miles
BNE-CHC- cheap VA flight
   7 days on the South Island, 2 at the Doubletree Queenstown (30k Hilton)
CHC-SYD-LAX-JFK- 45k delta miles (somehow went down from 60k three weeks before the trip)

*The trip was crazy, and at times stressful and exhausting (I’m talking about you Australia). But totally worth it as I figured I wouldn’t be back in that side of the world for a while.


February 27, 2018, 03:57:57 PM
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Re: Unexpected RTW: JFK-MLE-BKK-SYD-MEL-BNE-CHC-JFK Australia
*Disclaimer: My husband and I are used to traveling hard, aka multiple flights in a little amount of days, switching hotels daily, lots of driving. Our Australia itinerary proved to be way too exhausting for us, not sure if it’s just us getting old :D. We’re glad we did it though, and do not regret it for a second. We figured that we wouldn’t be back for a long time, and we’d take what we could get.

Sydney

We flew Garuda Indonesia from BKK to SYD, with a stopover in CGK. Overall, flight was ok with the expected nasty (seriously mint green colored chicken?) KSML, really glad we brought A LOT of food with us from the Chabad restaurant. The flight was a redeye, so arrived at SYD late morning (didn’t get much sleep in economy…) We came prepared for Australia’s notorious customs, but ended up getting lots of shelf stable salami confiscated because apparently there was poultry listed in the ingredients…there goes our New Zealand food. Thankfully we brought lots of other food that was fine. Taxis were expensive, so we took the train to Circular Quay, and then walked to the Park Hyatt Sydney. It was probably our muddled brains, but the hotel was kind of hard to find. I was not expecting to be upgraded as a lowly discoverist, as well as it being high season, but lo and behold we were upgraded to a harbor room! (And when booking originally there had been no availability, but I kept checking every day until I got ahold of one night.)

IMG_4422 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_4425 by eandd, on Flickr

The side view of the Opera House was more than enough for us. They even gave us kosher wine and a really cute bouquet of flowers, as I had emailed them that it was our honeymoon.
After settling in, we walked (dragged ourselves) to the Royal botanical gardens to Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, where we had very nice views of the harbour bridge and opera house.

IMG_4438 by eandd, on Flickr

Then, walked back to a closer train station and took the train to the Bondi Junction station. I’m not sure if it is normally a long walk or we were very tired, but the kosher restaurants were pretty far. We had delicious pizza at Bondi Kosher Pizza Gallery, and then walked down the hill to Bondi Beach.

IMG_4461 by eandd, on Flickr

The beach was underwhelming, so we took an uber to the Coles at Bondi Junction. The entrance was impossible to find, and nobody around could tell us where to go! Finally we found it, but they were close to closing, and we were too drained to think about what we wanted for the rest of our trip. We decided to do our New Zealand shopping in Melbourne. Our taxi back to the Park Hyatt was pretty expensive, but at least they took credit card. Stupidly, we stayed up later than we should, taking night pictures of the Opera house.

IMG_4512 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_4518 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_4532 by eandd, on Flickr

I’d originally booked an airport shuttle for transport returning to the airport using asia miles, but did not expect it to go smoothly. Unfortunately we were never issued a proper voucher, and ended up just taking an uber to the airport for our early morning flight to Melbourne. The uber ended up being close to the amount we’d spent on two train fares coming from the airport. At this point (and for many points during the rest of our trip) we were functioning on four hours of sleep.

March 06, 2018, 07:06:21 PM
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Re: Eandd's packed trip to Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand
@ eandd

Nice trip report. Any chance of you to finish it and include some pictures?
Completely forgot about this! Will try my best to find some time soon...and jog my memory :)

July 23, 2018, 12:19:35 PM
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Re: Eandd's packed trip to Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand Finally uploaded some pictures from the Phillippines (sorry about the quality of some of them...didn't know much about dslrs at the time)
Wish I had more pictures of the cities and "airports" to give you a feel for the country. Underwater pics to follow some day....

Coron town

IMG_0151 by eandd, on Flickr

Coron Island hopping

IMG_0233 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0374 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0455 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0502 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0552 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0669 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0717 by eandd, on Flickr

Coron market and "marina"

IMG_0753 by eandd, on Flickr

View from the main El Nido beach (a major diff between El Nido and Coron is that El Nido has this beach and Coron does not. Also El Nido is much more "civilized")

IMG_0762 by eandd, on Flickr

El Nido Island hopping (What you don't see is that some of the beaches were pretty crowded at times)

IMG_0787 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0834 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0882 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0944 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_0982 by eandd, on Flickr

Corong Corong beach

IMG_1037 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_1071 by eandd, on Flickr

IMG_1107 by eandd, on Flickr

picking a coconut for us

IMG_1145 by eandd, on Flickr

The El Nido market

IMG_1183 by eandd, on Flickr

*I don't know if I mentioned this before, but each full day island hopping tour was about $20 a person! (little more expensive in El Nido) most were a mix of beaches and snorkeling spots and were really fun.


July 23, 2018, 08:56:55 PM
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Re: Eandd's packed trip to Hong Kong, The Philippines, and Thailand Just realized I didn't post the El Nido part, so here it comes. (see post above for pics)

In El Nido we did Island hopping tour A; A and C are the supposed to be the nicest, but C was not running that day (or the week) because of the wing/waves. Another very attractive option was a combined island hopping tour that wasn’t much more, combining the highlights of two tours. (Side note, all the tours were booked after arrival-there are tour operators all over the small town, and can also be booked through your hotel)

The next day was Friday, and since we did not have enough time for another boat tour we decided to rent scooters to drive to the much heard about Corong Corong beach. We decided to each get a bike, but ended up driving there on one…. The ride itself is pretty long, and part of it is not paved-basically it is not as easy as the locals claim. The beach itself is very nice, and after walking to the very end, found it to be completely empty.

Shabbos was spent with the new El Nido chabad couple. Originally, we were told that there was no chabad in Palawan at all, and we expected to spend Shabbos alone with our meal mart shelf stable cholent.  While in Hong Kong at the beginning of our trip, the Kowloon chabad couple told us that there was a Chabad couple that had literally just moved to El Nido a few weeks before to open a chabad house for all the Israeli tourists! We didn’t know where they would be staying, but after asking a bunch of random people where the chabad is, we asked about a rabbi and they all knew. They’re a really nice young couple from Chaifa who were so happy to see us! I think this was their first Shabos hosting people, and they insisted we join them. There is no kosher food on the Island, everything gets flown in besides for fruits/vegetables and fish which they buy from the markets. So the shabbos food wasn’t lavish, but it was very tasty and sufficient. And the company more than made up for it!

Sunday was a fast day, and was therefore spent exploring the town and buying souvenirs. There was  a tiny street/alleyway where there were lots of vendors selling really nice handmade jewelry for really cheap that we watched them make on the spot. We took a tuk tuk to check out Las Cabanas beach which was a waste of time. 

Getting to Puerto Princessa so we could board our flight to Manila was an excruciating and scary 6 hour van ride, although cheap. Was booked a day before departure. The PP to Manilla flight was the only Air Asia flight we took that was delayed, and would have caused us to miss our next day’s flight. On a whim, I checked with the gate agents (sounds so official, but totally wasn’t) and they were able to change us to a flight that was leaving an hour later than our original flight.

I had been in touch with the Levy’s, the chabad couple in Manilla, who were extremely helpful.They mentioned that there was a kosher takeout in Manilla, which we did not have time to make use of. Additionally,  when planning the trip I really wanted to take a trip to the Taal volcano which looked really cool. But that would entail a long drive to tagatay, a boat ride across the lake, then a long hike to the tip of the crater to see the island within the lake, within a lake, within an island  I realized that trying to stuff it all in a day trip was too ambitious. Also, flying to Cebu and swimming with whale sharks seemed like too much. Instead, we decided to fly directly into Bohol (most people fly into Cebu and then take the ferry) and stay there to see the Virgin island (way overrated).

So we spent a night in Manila in an excellent Airbnb in the neighborhood of Makati (the safest neighborhood in Manila) and then flew very earlythe next day to the island of Bohol. When leaving the airport, we were bombarded with tons of tour companies offering private drivers to bring us to the different attractions on the island. We managed to bargain down A LOT, and got someone to drive us to the tarsier sanctuary, the Chocolate hills, and the Hindagannan cave. Side note, there are 2 sanctuaries; make sure to go to the one where the tarsiers are free and not caged up.

When we got to the sanctuary it was pouring, but we were still able to see the animals. The way it works is  each morning someone goes out and marks locations of tarsiers  since they do not budge during the day. We were taken to see them by a sanctuary guide. They are tiny animals, part of the primate family I believe, and very endangered since they commit suicide when scared.

IMG_1254 by eandd, on Flickr

Next we were taken to the chocolate hills, a very amazing and weird sight. During the dry season they look like chocolate kisses since their vegetation dries up and turns brown.

IMG_1322 by eandd, on Flickr

Unfortunately when we got to the cave it was closed, so we decided to save it for the next day.

Our hotel booked on Agoda I believe, and was on Panglao Island (part of Bohol but separate from the mainland). The hotel was cheap and clean, nothing fancy. We had asked the manager to warm up one of our meal mart meals in his microwave, and he mentioned that if he had know n we keep kosher he would have prepared us a special meal! Turns out he had dealt with the special meal requests on Disney cruises for years, and claimed to know the rules of kashrus. That evening, we walked around Alona beach (super overrated), and bargained many boat owners for a private island hopping tour the next day. Finally, we got the price we wanted and made up to meet the guy by the docks the next morning.

July 23, 2018, 09:01:25 PM
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Re: Gift Card and gas Promo at Stop & Shop or Giant FINALLY!!! 3× visa gift card  3/15-3/21
@ doc

March 10, 2019, 04:40:56 AM
1