The Flanders Family
Travelers: Chris and Tricia Flanders and their kids Ella (age 11) and William (age 9), who both attend the British School of Beijing.
Destination: Apulit, Philippines
Dates: September 27-October 5, 2012
Cost: About RMB 38,700. Four roundtrip flights to Manila on Philippines Airlines cost about RMB 12,300, and flights to Palawan cost about RMB 5,000. The family stayed at El Nido’s Apulit Island Resort for seven nights, which cost USD 440 (RMB 2,700) per night and included roundtrip transportation from Palawan to Apulit, and all meals, activities, and excursions. Each of the two nights at the Manila Shangri-la cost USD 210 (RMB 1,288).
Tour company: The Flanders family booked their flights to Manila themselves on Expedia, but they booked their flight from Manila to Palawan through El Nido (www.elnidoresorts.com), which they decided on based on reviews from Trip Advisor.
We moved to Beijing in August 2012 and were tired from packing,moving, and starting a new school and job, so we wanted an easy vacation for our first October holiday six weeks later. We wanted somewhere warm and beachy, with some culture and city life. Just over two weeks in advance, we settled on the Philippines, as there were more reasonably-priced direct flights. Friends recommended Boracay, but we wanted something a bit more secluded and ended up spending seven nights on Apulit, a tiny island off of the larger southwest island of Palawan. On the advice of a colleague, we left on the Thursday before October holiday and came back the Friday before the end of the holiday to save on ticket prices.
We flew from Beijing to Manila, then took a small flight on ITI Airlines to Palawan Island. Once on Palawan, we took a 15-minute Jeepney (a kind of tricked-out bus) ride to the river and a hour and a half-long boat ride to Apulit Island. The river ride was scenic, with mangroves and marine and land wildlife. The locals often see long-tailed macaques (monkeys) in the mangrove forests along the river. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but had a lot of fun trying to spot them. On first impression, we found the Philippines to be a colorful and diverse country, with both impoverished, underdeveloped sections and modern conveniences and spectacular natural beauty.
The islands were gorgeous, with incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes, but we were nervous that we would be bored by the lack of things to do. However, there were plenty of activities: kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, cave exploring, nature hikes, lounging by the pool and beach, and volleyball. The kids engaged in some of the weaving activities offered by the resort staff and learned to make woven hats and sea creatures.
Guests are welcomed on arrival with singing and guitar playing, and each child receives a booklet of wildlife to look out for on the island. William brought the sheet with him everywhere, but we didn’t expect to find half the animals while standing on the balcony of our cottage. The water was so clear that you could spot the most abundant marine life without even getting wet, and the limestone rocks made interesting hiding places for other creatures on the island.
Apulit’s caves were incredible. We hiked into two different caves to see bats and limestone formations, and even had a private family dinner in one of them. Throughout dinner, the moon shone through an opening at the top of the cave. When we first arrived, it only had a little bit of water in it; as the evening went by, more and more water flowed in, which was exciting (and a little scary) for the kids.
William went scuba diving twice in Taytay Bay with divemaster Dante. He had previously been a little leery of snorkeling and other water activities, but Dante was a natural at making him feel safe. William became PADI-certified and is now passionate about scuba diving. Ella befriended two Dutch girls and had a blast roaming the property and swinging from the banyan tree vines.
We spent a day and half in Manila on our way out. The day we flew there, a big storm came through Palawan and the plane ride out was really scary. In Manila, we intended to visit several different historical sites, but it was pouring rain, so we only drove by some beautiful Spanish-influenced cathedrals and buildings and visited a market to shop for local handicrafts. The most interesting part for the kids was seeing the armed guards clad with machine guns and dogs that checked the car inside and out at the entrance to the driveway of the hotel, and then again before entering the hotel. There were also many armed guards standing on street corners with very prominent machine guns. It made the kids feel safe, but of course made us a little wary.
Apulit is great for people who want to relax in a breathtaking setting and get away for a while, but if you want a more energetic, happening spot, this probably isn’t it.
You don’t need money on the island, as extras like cocktails or private dinners are put on your bill and paid by credit card at the end of the stay. They ask you not to tip individual staff, but instead to leave one tip upon checkout to be divided amongst staff. However, tipping is not expected or required.
The island is in the middle of the Tropic of Cancer and the equator, so it has a tropical to sub-tropical climate and gets hit hard by rainstorms from June to October.
The island is very steep and great for hiking, but if you’re a runner, a long run will be difficult to do.
photos courtesy of TRICIA FLANDERS
This article originally appeared on p36-37 of the beijingkids August 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com