It’s time for me to pack my bag and get out and begin exploring the Philippines. That means heading out on a few buses for many hours to get out of the city and into the countryside.
Although I didn’t take one bus from point A to point B, there are buses that go direct from Manila to Caramoan that take a mere 16 hours.
My first stop is Bicol, nearly 200 miles from Manila. I took a bus that left Manila around midnight, which was definitely unusual for me. I never travel overnight by bus so this was a new adventure for me.
TSG Tip: There’s Bicol the city and the Bicol Region, which is where I visited. My bus ride was about 6 hours long.
This green landscaped area is covered with farmland that includes rice fields and carabao.
Unfamiliar with carabao? I was, too. I thought they meant caribou, like reindeer, but nope — these are carabao (sounds like cara-bow). This domestic water buffalo is native to the Philippines and is an important asset to any farmer. And they really like taking mud baths.
The carabao also take bets to see when and where I might slip into a rice field. Sure enough, I did slide in and once in, it’s like quick sand trying to get out. I’m sure I have rice growing between my toes right now.
Trying not to obsess about the rice field incident, I gladly took up an offer to ride a skate nearby. Now notice I didn’t say “skates,” but skate. Think of the trolleys contractors use at Home Depot to bring supplies out to their trucks like drywall.
These trolleys don’t carry supplies but people from one end of the train tracks to the other. When it’s time to turn around, the driver actually picks up the skate, puts it on his shoulders, and turns it around.
You can do a little shopping and even grab snacks before heading back on the skate.
Cagsawa Ruins and Mayon Volcano
What’s left of a 16th century church called Cagsawa Ruins stand in front of the still very active Mayon Volcano.
In case you’re like me and didn’t know, the volcano last erupted in January 2018, requiring the 40,000+ residents in the area to evacuate. Mayon Volcano was named after the legendary princess-heroine Daragang Magayon which means “Beautiful Lady” in English.
Located in Albay, there’s not much here to see or do but the volcano and the ruins, but if you’re an outdoors fan, consider ziplining or taking an ATV tour for some real fun.
TSG Tip: This region is known for liking their spicy food. I’ve learned while exploring the Philippines that spicy food is definitely not the norm. So to discover “sili ice cream” was a real treat. “Sili” means “chili” as in hot. I chose level four and my tongue still won’t forgive me. It was cold and sweet while also being ridiculous hot and spicy. Addictive? You bet.
If you’re ready for a little more night life, shopping, and bright lights at night, then head over to Naga City.
This city is a stopover point and where the main bus terminal is for most destinations in the region. To get to Caramoan, my ultimate destination while I continued exploring the Philippines, I was going to have to stop in Naga City.
Luckily, there’s a mall only a short walk from the bus station so you can grab something to eat, do a little shopping, and enjoy the air conditioning.
You can also grab a pedicab or tricycle over to Central Naga City for even more shopping and street food. Look for the “ukay ukay” stores, which are thrift stores selling used items, which have become more popular in the Philippines. You can find luggage, clothes, shoes, pretty much anything, which is great especially if you’re packing light for the road. There’s also beautiful architecture to admire, like this cathedral in the city.
My next stop on my road trip while exploring the Philippines is Caramoan. I took a death defying bus ride at 6 am from Naga City to Caramoan and it’s one I won’t ever forget. I had to hold onto the two seats in front of me to prevent myself from sliding around and off the seats. It was raining hard and the bus driver was fearless as he drove downhill near the edge of the road overlooking the water as if he had nothing to lose. I felt like I was on the world’s longest roller coaster ride, but once I arrived in Caramoan, it was all worth it.
I’ve never heard of this city, but if you’ve watched Survivor you might be familiar with it. Apparently, they’ve shot a few seasons here for various versions of the show for different countries.
Where I stayed was close to the prop shop where they are still building sets and puzzles for the current season that is being shot. BTW, I still can’t figure out this puzzle.
Day One: Caramoan
I decided to do a two-day island hopping tour via boat and I’m so glad I did.
Caramoan is just beautiful. I could use crazy descriptors and adjectives to try and explain how incredible this place is, but nothing, including my pictures, will do it any justice.
At my first island I went rock climbing up to the top of this mountain to catch this view. Going up was scary, but going down was even harder, but I did it.
I was able to catch a few more of the little islands and swim in the water, which on a hot day in the Philippines is a necessity. Just swimming in the clean ocean made me really want to go Philippines diving, so that I could see all of the tropical water creatures as well as the corals!
Day Two: Caramoan
On my second day in Caramoan, my tour guide, Arnell, and the boat driver escorted me by boat on the hour long boat ride to Cutivas Island. Arnell was smart and napped for most of the long ride.
We stopped off on the way at Gogon to go up to the lighthouse and to take in this spectacular view. How there aren’t hotels or houses up here yet is beyond me. The views are beyond million dollar views.
Cutivas Island in the off season became my private island. That’s right. One entire island just for me and a few stray dogs. One dog has three legs because crabs ate off one when he was a puppy. Can we all say “Awwww.” I certainly did. But look at this view and tell me if life is good here or what?
The island even has little cabanas where you can sit to escape the sun and eat or drink if you choose to do so.
I highly recommend sunscreen even in the rainy season as I forgot mine and that was a big, big mistake. I got a horrible sunburn and didn’t even know I was burning. I looked like a snake peeling two weeks later, but I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything in the world.
Arnell even cooked up lunch that included roasted eggplant, sweet potato, and rice. I purchased a salad from the woman working on the island, which was made from seaweed, tomato, onion, and calamansi, the Philippine’s citrus fruit that’s a lime. All was enjoyed on the table in a “boodle fight,” which is a military style of eating where the food is placed on banana leaves and eaten with bare hands. And for dessert we devoured some of the sweetest and most delicious mangoes I’ve ever eaten in my life..
TSG Tip: This trip to the Philippines has pushed me so far out of my comfort zone and pushes me to grow on a daily basis. Who would’ve thought I’d be eating a meal with my hands on a beach with stray dogs?
After lunch we had to wait for a while as it was low tide and the boat was stuck in the sand. Afterwards, we headed back, but made a quick pit stop at a real sand bar. Basically, they’re little floating bars on a real sand bar. Genius I say!
Back to Manila
I absolutely loved exploring the Philippines and the countryside and beaches. While the bus rides may be long and arduous, they certainly are entertaining. I love watching the vendors come on and sell their goods and seeing how people in other countries live. Someone got on one of my buses with a rooster inside a laundry basket. How often can you say that you see that?
Do you have any ideas, suggestions, or comments for me for my visit to the Philippines that you’d like to share? Leave your comments below. Discover some other great destinations and travel ideas here on the Travel Shop Girl website.