The Philippines

At the end of January, I had a 4-day weekend for the Lunar New Year. I knew I wanted to go somewhere, but I couldn’t decide where. I decided that if I never got the opportunity to go to Asia again, the one place I would regret not going to is the Philippines. Learning from my past mistakes, I went to hostelworld.com to book a place to stay immediately after I booked the plane ticket to Manila. I looked through some of the hostels on the website, and found one that looked like a party hostel where I knew it would be easy to meet other people, since I was traveling alone again. Lunar New Year is a big holiday in Korea, and a lot of people travel, whether they’re just going to their hometown, or traveling internationally. It was cheapest to fly out of Seoul, so I had to take a 4 hour bus ride from Daegu to fly out of Incheon International Airport.

I arrived in Manila around noon, and was planning to use the rail system to get to the hostel. I couldn’t figure out where to go to get on the train, so instead I decided to take a taxi. Before I left, I did some research and learned that there are a lot of people who will try to scam you in several different ways. One thing I read was that the taxi drivers would say that their meter is broken, then they would charge a lot more than what it should be. I asked the taxi driver how much it would be before I got in, and we agreed on a price. I think I did pay a little more than I should have, but it could have (and has) been much worse. The hostel looked a bit sketchy, but it was cheap, plus the Philippines is a developing country, so I wasn’t expecting much. I checked in and put my stuff in my room. The only WiFi was in the lobby, so I took a little nap, then went downstairs to use the internet. Having internet only in the lobby is a great way to force people to talk to each other.. which is the whole point of traveling!

When I came downstairs, there was a different person working the desk than before. He asked me if I’d be interested in a group trip with the hostel to Taal Volcano. The hostel had never organized a trip, but wanted to start, so we would be their guinea pigs to see if it’s something that people would like. I told him I had hoped to find someone to go to Taal Volcano with, so this would be perfect. The volcano was an hour or 2 drive from Manila, so I didn’t know how to go by myself anyway. After signing up for the trip, I sat on a bench in the lobby next to a girl named Stephanie and started talking to her. She was also from the US, but she was teaching English in China. The Lunar New Year is an even bigger deal in China, so I met a lot of people who were working in China, but had a month off for the holiday and were traveling to the Philippines and other places. Eventually the lady who checked me in said that she was going to a mall, and asked if Stephanie and I would like to go. So we went with her and learned that she’s actually the owner of the hostel. She’s young, so we were really surprised that she owned it. The mall looked pretty normal, but it was definitely run-down. I went to bed early that night because the next day was the trip to Taal Volcano.

The hostel I stayed at had contacted another hostel in the area and opened the trip up to them as well, so in the morning we had to stop there and pick up a few people from that hostel. I think there ended up being around 15 of us that went. We ate some donuts and were on our way. To get to the volcano, you have to take a 30 minute boat ride across the lake. The boats only fit about 6 people, plus the local driver. We were warned that we would get wet on the boat ride, but luckily I didn’t get too wet on the way there. When you get to the island, there’s a trail that takes you up the volcano. You can even pay to ride a donkey to the top. We made it to the top, and when you look down, there’s a lake with another small volcano in it. Basically it’s a volcano, inside a lake, inside a volcano, inside a lake. Confusing, but I’ll post pictures. At the top of the volcano, there are people who sell golf balls that you can hit into the water. At first, I wasn’t going to do it, but then a guy that was on the trip with me said it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so I should just go for it. Besides, how many people can say they’ve hit a golf ball off a volcano? It didn’t take much to persuade me.

We walked around at the top for a while and took some group pictures. Then suddenly… my sandal broke. Yes, I wore sandals to go up a volcano. Maybe not the best idea, but I wasn’t the only one, and I’ve done things like that before with sandals on or barefoot. There were people selling clothes and other souvenirs, but no shoes. I had no choice but to walk back down that volcano barefoot. I had to walk a lot slower than the group because I didn’t have shoes, so most of them were way ahead of me. I got to a part on the trail that was really narrow, so I had to stop to let some donkeys pass. Just when I started walking again, BAM! I’ve been hit by a donkey. A donkey behind me brushed up beside me, but it was enough for it to knock me over onto the ground. No one in my group saw it since they were ahead of me, which was a relief because it would have been embarrassing for it to happen right in front of them. I did get a cut just below my knee from landing on a rock, but other than that I was fine. That was also an experience that not many people can say they’ve had.. I’m all about the unique experiences!

When I finally reached the bottom, the rest of the group was waiting for me. I told them what happened with the donkey and they all thought it was hilarious and were trying to imagine how exactly it happened and asked for a reenactment (which I provided the next day.) Many jokes were made about it during the remainder of the trip. We got back in the boat to go back to the mainland, except this time we got soaked and it was cold and miserable. It was still worth it for the interesting experience I had. We went to a restaurant, then stopped at a park for one last view. After that, we headed back to Manila.

Some people I went to the volcano with had mentioned that they heard there was midget boxing in Manila, so I went with a few other girls that night to find it. It was really… weird. We only saw one match, and that was enough. On the last day of my trip, I just relaxed and walked around by myself. I walked toward the bay, and it was a nice area with a theater, amusement park, and several restaurants. There’s no beach in Manila, which was kind of a bummer, but it was still great to see the sun set at the bay.

I had a really great experience in Manila because I planned ahead better, and got to meet a lot of new and interesting people.

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