Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Next destination: Singapore

photo not my property

photo not my property

We’re returning to our favorite fine (pun unintended) city in three months time to celebrate my mum’s big 5-9. Apparently, after celebrating her birthday in Hong Kong last year, our parents have grown a taste for travel. As much as it is expensive because my sister and I pay for our family travels, we have come to make it our goal to have our parents see as many countries as they can and as we can afford. I guess I have mentioned in my earlier posts about how both our parents grew up with really less in life and it is only now when they are older that they got to taste the little pleasures of life. My sister and I also vowed to spend as much as we can for them since we are aware that not everyone is blessed to still have their parents with them.

Sure, traveling with our oldies is not the easiest thing to do (they can be fussy sometimes) but seeing the joy in their faces (very apparent in HK last year) was worth every damn penny.

So, yep — I still owe a expenses breakdown of last March’s Taipei trip on this blog as well as more posts on that trip and yet I am already busy looking for a really good accommodation for the whole fam for “Operation: Mum’s SG Birthday.” After all, it is not exactly a secret that Singapore is expensive so I am racking my brains on where we should stay. We already have a few leads — a toss up on Bugis (where we stayed last 2011) or in Chinatown where our parents would enjoy the stalls and the tiny attractions here and there. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a note!

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Central Luzon, Philippines

Discovering Potipot

Potipot, an island located a few kilometers off the coast of Zambales was the chosen destination for my birthday get-away this year. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the beach and the birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity. I have also been hearing a lot about Potipot Island — how it’s the “Boracay” of the Luzon, how the sands are so fine and the water so crystal clear.

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So off we go to discover this little wonder.

TRANSPORTATION
First and foremost, going to Potipot Island is not easy. It’s located in Candelaria, Zambales — a six to seven drive or land travel from Manila. Since, I will be bringing the rest of my family with me, I decided to hire a van overnight. Good thing I still have my van service contacts brought by my stint in PR. I was able to secure a van service for PHP7,000.00 or about 167USD (on a USD1 = PHP42 exchange rate). This is already cheap because the usual overnight service for van (rental and driver only) goes for PHP9,000.00 to PHP10,000.00 for an out-of-town itinerary. Of course, toll fees and gasoline is not included in the quoted price. And since I am a long time customer, my contact gave me a discount of PHP1,000.00 as a birthday gift. This was additional savings on my part.

For those who would like to take the public transportation, Victory Liner (www.victoryliner.com) has daily trips going to Zambales. I think you can catch these trips at selected times at their Cubao or Caloocan stations.

A six to seven hour road trip is not easy, especially if you have an active bladder. Make sure to take advantage of the many gasoline stations at the North Luzon Expressway because as soon as you enter the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), it will be nothing but a long stretch of road, with no gasoline stations or functioning toilets anywhere in sight. I should know because I had to pee on a make-shift “toilet,” made of pieced together plywood with a sign hanging “donations please” attached on an old mineral water bottle, somewhere along the lonely desolate roads of SCTEX. The funny thing is, there was portalet nearby, just a few feet away, but let’s just say that it was “not functional” when we had our road trip. The people who should be doing the cleaning and maintaining was just too brilliant in NOT doing their job.

ACCOMMODATION
If you plan on spending a night at Potipot, note that there are no resorts at the island, though they allow beach-goers to pitch a tent. There was a functioning CR, but still if you traveled by van, have a bunch of senior citizens with you, plus a pesky, little kid (my cousin’s daughter) — you have to find accommodations.

Our choice was Sunbloom Resort (www.sunbloomresort.com), one of the best resorts available in Candelaria. An overnight stay at their Family Room, good for 12 pax, is only PHP4,000 and comes with an ensuite T&B plus parking privileges. Sunbloom also allows its guests to cook their own food within the resort premises. Their family rooms are newly-built — it was clean, spacious and equipped with two double decks and four queen-sized beds. Sunbloom also provided 8 towels and add-ons like 3 pieces of tissue rolls and 3 packs of soap so it was a pretty sweet deal.

Service within the resort is also very fast and efficient. Banca rental is just PHP100.00 per person for a round-trip to and from Potipot which is just five minutes away from the resort.

Sunbloom Resort beach front

Sunbloom Resort beach front

To rent a banca, you just have to inform the front desk and they will arrange a banca service for you. Last time of pick=up is 6PM.

That's me and my god daughter who won't let go of the giant inflatable plane. Yep, we carried the sucker going to Potipot

That’s me and my god daughter who won’t let go of the giant inflatable plane. Yep, we carried the sucker going to Potipot

POTIPOT ISLAND
Potipot is a very small island. In fact, it’s so small you can cross it from one shore to another in less than 15 minutes. As soon as we alighted the banca, we were accosted by a man who immediately asked for the PHP50 (less than 2USD) “entrance fee” to the island. No receipts or any proof of payment was issued and we were left pretty much to our own devices as soon as money was collected.

I read somewhere that Potipot is a private island, hence the “entrance fee.” And man, whoever the owners maybe — they are making a killing. There were people everywhere and in fact, it was getting a bit crowded for comfort. We headed to the sourthern part where we hoped to find less crowd but was immediately proven wrong. People were everywhere — along with tents and other camping implements. Finally, finding a spot, we parked our beach towels a few feet from the water and finally started to enjoy the fine sand, the crystal clear waters and…a full on PDA that lasted three minutes more than it should.

Here's my crazy god daughter looking like an adorable angel playing on the fine sands of Potipot

Here’s my crazy god daughter looking like an adorable angel playing on the fine sands of Potipot

I hate to say this, but while the beach IS indeed beautiful…it can be a bit underwhelming, especially if the image you had in your head is that of Boracay. It was also sad seeing people throwing their garbage just about anywhere:

cigarette wrapper ruining an otherwise beautiful view

cigarette wrapper ruining an otherwise beautiful view

To say that I am ashamed to share my nationality with the moron who threw his garbage in an otherwise pristine island is an understatement. I wish I could say that it’s the only garbage I saw while in Potipot, but there were quite a few especially on the side where bancas park to get their passengers. It was sad and frustrating seeing something so beautiful ruined by the carelessness of other people.

And oh, speaking about “carelessness” —

We saw these babies as we make our way to the banca pick-up area. A teen-aged girl was lovingly shoveling water on them while she arranges them in a “photo-worthy” pose worthy of an effing Instagram. I was tempted to give her a piece of my mimd, something like, “I am sure you’ll get many regrams due to these beautiful babies but by taking them out of the water, you’ve just managed to kill a good number of starfishes.” The dumb things we do in exchange for a good photo opportunity.

EXPENSES BREAKDOWN

potipot expenses

A few days before the trip, my sister and my mum agreed to shoulder the van cost as a belated birthday gift. I ended up spending PHP10,900 for an unforgettable road trip with my family. It was one of the best experiences ever and served as a good bonding activity for our family.

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