Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trip To Boracay, Philippines: The Over-hyped White Beach

Photo By: Elin Chow

A trip to Boracay is never complete without visiting the famed White Beach. The 3.5 kilometers long White Beach is the main tourism beach in Boracay and the reason why 1.5 million tourists flocked to the island every year.

The White Beach is stunning -  powdery white sand and shaded by palm trees. Surrounded by crystal clear blue waters, it has long been a magnet for visitors seeking paradise.

Before we visited Boracay, we have high expectation. We were expecting to see a pristine beach and endless white sand, but were disappointed to find the entire place overrun with tourists. That was the moment we knew that Boracay will not be the beautiful paradise that we have somehow expected.

The White Beach is over-rated.

True enough, the island has white powdery sand and the water surrounding it was crystal clear. It was stunningly beautiful, but unfortunately, not impressive. Once a paradise, the beach is now ruined by over-development and mass tourism.

Just like Hennan Group of Resorts, almost all the upscale hotels and resorts offer sun loungers for use during the day. Strolling down, you will notice that the entire stretch of beach is lined with hotels' sun loungers and umbrellas, complimentary and for the exclusive use of hotel guests.

One can enjoy relaxing on a beach lounger under the shade of an umbrella and palm trees while time drifts away. Alternatively, you may also put your own towel or beach mat down on the sands, lie down and just soak up some sun.

Other than relaxing on a beach lounger, there were plenty of other things to do at the beach. You can spend your day at the beach swimming, snorkeling, kayaking or enjoy a drink at a nearby cafe.

The weather in Boracay is hot and humid, but windy. Spending a long period of time in the sun will lead to sunburn and dehydration. So, please remember to apply a generous amount of sunscreen on your skin and drink plenty of water while in the sun.

We enjoy sitting on the beach, listening to the waves crash against the sand.  Enjoy the warmth of the sun and just gaze out at the endless blue sea.

The White Beach is lined with coconut trees and business establishments on one side and the sparkling blue water on the other. Boasting a long coastline with clear azure waters and fine powdery white sands, the White Beach is divided in three sections - Station 1, Station 2 and Station 3.

Station 2

Station 2 is the commercial area of the White Beach where all the shopping, eating and partying take place. As a result, Station 2 is the most crowded and nosiest among the three Stations.

Station 2 is dominated by a wide range of restaurants, bars, shops, massage centers, hotels providing different accommodation options and other amenities that are specifically targeted at tourists.

There are hundreds of dining options along the White Beach, but most of the restaurants serve either Western or Chinese food. Boracay is over-commercialized. There are even McDonalds, Starbucks, TGI Friday and Pizza Hut available on the island as well.

There are no air conditioned shopping malls at the White Beach. The main beach footpath is lined with shops and market stalls selling everything from beachwear, sarongs, handicrafts, jewelries, surfing accessories, sunglasses and typical tourist souvenirs.

Bargaining in Boracay is a common practice and whether you get a good price while shopping depends largely on one's bargaining skill. Most of the vendors and shopkeepers will try to overcharge you, especially if you are a tourist. So, it is highly likely that you will be ripped off if you do not haggle.

The entire stretch of beach was full of street hawkers, mostly selling hats, fake sunglasses, waterproof casings and selfie sticks. Be prepared to be constantly hassled by these street hawkers as you strolled down the beach. It was impossible for one to wander around the beach without being asked to purchase something every step. It was incredibly annoying!

However, these street hawkers are poverty sicken people trying to earn money to feed themselves and their families. You can see desperation in their eyes, so sometimes, it made us feel really bad for rejecting them. But on the other hand, we hate the constant pestering by hawkers trying to get you to buy something from them.

But luckily, they are not very aggressive or rude, just persistent. In fact, most of them were very friendly and polite, and will usually stop pestering us once we said that we are not interested. Of course,there were some very persistent ones who will follow and pester you in hopes of eventually bothering you enough so that you will buy something to get them go away. Even so, DO NOT buy anything from them because that will just encourage other equally persistent hawkers to keep pestering you.

The persistent hawkers are generally harmless and will leave you alone if you firmly say "no". Be very firm and polite when you are rejecting them and once you have done that, walk away without engaging further.

Besides that, the beach is also lined with hundreds of semi-aggressive vendors all ready to rip you off the minute you stepped foot on the beach. Getting hassled or ripped off cannot be avoided in Boracay and usually, you will still overpay, even when you bargained.

Even so, do haggle and negotiate for a lower price, especially when you are buying more than one item from the same vendor. But please do not start haggling if you are not serious about making a purchase.

Apart from that, you will approach frequently by local women offering on the spot massage at an affordable price. These are freelance massage therapies who can provide the service right where you are - on a towel laid out on the beach.

Besides that, there were also several "massage stations" set up under the palm trees along the footpath. You will easily spot these "massage stations" as you strolled down the beach. There are sun loungers with mats, small pillows and towels set up in these stations. However, there was no blanket or cloth to cover you from the sight of passerby. Hence, there was no privacy at all.

We did not try any of the massage services because we prefer more privacy and would rather pay more for a better experience.

The powdery white sand makes it perfectly ideal for building unique and impressive sandcastles. Children will enjoy their day in the sunshine and building sandcastles on the beach.

Throughout the day, you will see local children building amazing sandcastles along the beach.

The sandcastles are being built with messages of happy birthday, happy anniversary or marriage proposals and if you want, these children can also custom make one with your name or any other text you would like for a fee. 

You can take picture with any of the sandcastles that you found along the beach. However, the children will expect a tip after you have taken a picture with their sandcastles. So, remember to pay after you have taken a picture with it. After all, the sandcastles are their hard work. 

Unfortunately, these activities are now regulated by the local government because they affect the natural terrain of the beach. The ground loosened when a large quantities of sand are dug out to build sandcastles. Even the sandcastles are flattened, the sand formation will never be the same again. 

In the center of the Stations (located between Station 1 and 2), you will find D'mall, the main shopping district of Boracay.

D'mall is an open-air market that is a bit more upscale than D'Talipapa Market. The market is lined with an assortment of souvenir shops, boutiques and convenience stores. There are plenty of dining options available in D'mall too.

Boracay is well-known for its vibrant and wild nightlife. Most of the clubs, bars and lounges are lined alongside the footpath in Station 2. Station 2 is the centre of nightlife action in Boracay. It is a place for beach parties where bars and pubs blast loud music all night. The music can get so loud in some of the bars and pubs that you cannot hear a spoken word anymore. There are lots of drinking and loud music to dance to all night long.

With all the loud music, Station 2 is definitely not a peaceful place to relax and rest. For people who are non-party goers like me, do not stay in any of the beachfront hotels or resorts located in Station 2. I would recommend the Hennan Lagoon Resort because it is located far enough from the noisy nightlife, but close enough to the beach.

Station 3

Station 3 is located on the southernmost of the island. It is the least developed and quietest part of the White Beach where most of the backpackers and budget hotels are located. Compared to Station 1 and 2, Station 3 has a more relaxed atmosphere and is popular among budget travelers, backpackers and big groups. This is best place for you to get cheap accommodation if you are traveling on a limited budget, although recently upscale hotels has been developed to take advantage of the increased tourist traffic in Boracay.

The sand in Station 3 are not as powdery white as those found in Station 1 and 2. Compared to the other two stations, the sand are a little coarser and browner in Station 3. Other than that, we also noticed that there were actually more trees on the beach in Station 3 that provide shade.

Being the least developed, Station 3 is significantly less crowded than the other two Stations. Even so, I actually find Station 3 very crowded because it serves as a docking station for boats. Most of the boats dock at Station 3 for island hopping, helmet diving or Paraw sailing. This was also where we boarded the boat for helmet diving and Paraw sailing.

Station 1

Station 1 is located on the northernmost of the island and has the widest beachfront where all the most luxurious hotels and resorts are located. Non-beachfront budget hotels can also be found in Station , usually 2-3 minutes walk to the White Beach.

Station 1 was a little less crowded and much more quieter and relaxed, away from the hustle and bustle of night life in Station 2. The sand in Station 1 were also whiter, more powdery and softer than the two other Stations, which was a delight to walk on. This is where you will find the whitest and softest sand in the 3.5 kilometer long White Beach.

The beach footpath only runs from Station 3 to the end of Station 2. This means that there is no footpath in Station 1. All of the hotels and resorts in Station 1 are built right on the beach, offering the best view and location, hence the higher price tag.

The good thing about staying at a beachfront hotel or resort is having the beach located just within your footsteps. So, if you happen to be a beach person, I believe you will enjoy staying at Station 1 very much.

There are also fewer hotels and resorts in Station 1, which is actually a great news. This means that you will get the enjoy a little more privacy while on the beach.

For people who prefer peace and tranquility, I would suggest that you stay in Station 1, provided if you have a bigger budget at your disposal.

Willy's Rock

At the northern end of Station 1, you will find the iconic Willy's Rock, an odd-shaped volcanic formation located directly in front of Willy's Beach Resort.

Named after the owner of Willy's Beach Resort, Mr Tay Willy M. Gelito, the Willy's Rock is one of the most recognizable landmark in Boracay. On top of the rock, there is a statue of Virgin Mary. A man-made stairs is available for those who wish to make their way up to the top of the rock.

There were stands set up all along the White Beach with local tour agencies trying to sell tourists the same water sport activities at a different prices. It was impossible for one to stroll down the beach without dozens of tour agents blocking your way offering "attractive" packages for water sports activities like parasailing, sunset cruise, island-hopping trips and helmet diving. However, just like the street hawkers, these tour agents were not aggressive or rude. Most of them will usually leave you alone after you say "no" to them politely.

Small boats, paraws and speed boats lined up along the shores of the White Beach. During the day, there are lots of boat traffic on the water, which makes swimming undesirable.

We hate the crowds, the hordes of boats docking at the shore and all the trashes which the beach goers have left on the beach. They were unsightly and damaging to the environment.

Boracay is well-known for its spectacular sunset. The sun set around 6.00 pm all year round and this is also when the beach is the most crowded because this is a fantastic spot to catch a sunset.

Every evening, hundreds and thousands of people, both locals and tourists flock and gather at the beach to watch the sun disappear over the horizon.

We spent our evenings sitting on our resort's lounge chairs waiting for the sun to set. While waiting, a number of hawkers approached us, trying to sell us something every couple of minutes. It was annoying.

As the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon, I quickly took out my camera to capture that beautiful moment. The silhouettes have added beauty and great perspective to the sunset photos. 

In the next instant, before we even realized it, the sun just disappear beyond the horizon.

The White Beach comes alive after sun set with music, dancing and late night entertainment in restaurants, bars and pubs. 

The White Beach is busy and noisy all year round and certainly, this is not the place to be if you are seeking for a relaxed and quiet vacation.

I do not understand the hype of this island. In fact, I cannot even remember the reason why we wanted to visit Boracay in the first place. The beach, although stunning, has lost its beauty.

I believe many people would be surprised if I say that we did not like Boracay, even though we enjoyed our 4 days stay on the island. The White Beach was definitely stunning, but unfortunately way too crowded for our liking. It was difficult to enjoy that spectacular view of the sea and sands without someone blocking our view. Without the intense crowds, I believe we would have enjoy Boracay so much more.

Boracay has became way too commercialized in recent year due to its popularity, but mass tourism has a negative impact on the environment. Tourism is causing severe beach erosion, coastal and environmental pollution in Boracay.

As we strolled down the beach, it was not hard to notice that the waters were colored green. The green waters were the result of a bloom of green slimy algae caused by the inadequate sewage infrastructure. As a result, human and animals wastes (I wanted to write feces, but realized that will be too gross) are being dumped directly into the sea. The waters are so contaminated by human and animal wastes, resulting in a bloom of green algae and deterioration of coral reefs

The green algae are said to be common during the summer months (January to May) because the waters are calmer, thus allowing them to gather. But once the rainy season arrived, the algae will automatically disappear when the waters becomes rougher.

I cannot imagine myself swimming in a sea full of shit mixed with water. Although the waters are deemed safe for swimming, it was disgusting to wade through the thick green muck to get to the slightly cleaner water. Sometimes, the waters smell too.

Some part of the island like Bulabog Beach is deemed unsafe for swimming and other human activities.This is where the sewage emptied directly into the sea. A test revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in the water off Bulabog Beach.

To put it simply, Boracay is overrated, over-commercialized and over-hyped. The island, in our opinion, is a big tourist trap and definitely not worth visiting.

We would never return to Boracay. It is not a paradise. We believe that there are many other beautiful and less expensive islands in the region to see. Well, you probably would want to see the famed White Beach with your own eyes but do not say that I did not warn you. Just remember to keep your expectation low so that you would not be disappointed.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 4 days adventures in Boracay! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Trip To Boracay, Philippines: D'Talipapa Market

Photo By: Elin Chow

A trip to Boracay is never complete without visiting the famous D'Talipapa. D'Talipapa is a wet market where you can buy fresh and live seafood and proceed to any restaurant nearby to have it prepared and cooked in your favorite styles. Alternatively, you can also purchase fresh seafood and bring them home to cook for your family and friends.

The market is a popular destination for visitors looking for souvenirs to bring home or with a craving for fresh seafood. This is also a place where you will find cheaper grocery items, restaurants and fresh products.

Situated in Station 2, D'Talipapa is accessible from the main road of Boracay (the road between Boracay Holiday Resort and Henann Lagoon Resort) and Station 2 of White Beach. The market is located just a 5 minutes walk away from Hennan Lagoon Resort. From the Resort, look out for the large D'Talipapa sign. Simply ask the locals if you are unsure of the directions.

D'Talipapa consists of few blocks of retail shops and restaurants crowded along the narrow lanes.

You will find plenty of restaurants offering cooking services, fast-food restaurants, pharmacies and grocery stores in the market.

Money changer and ATM machine are also available inside the vicinity of D'Talipapa, so do not worry if you run out of cash.

The narrow streets are also lined with rows and rows of souvenir shops selling some of the typical tourist souvenirs like fridge magnets, key chains, t-shirts, bags, sarongs and wooden crafts. Souvenirs sold at the market are said to be cheaper than those sold in D'mall or beachfront shops along the White Beach. Be sure to haggle for lower prices especially when you are buying more than one item from the same vendor.

The D'Talipapa Wet Market is both a wholesale outlet, trading in daily catches that freshly arrive from the ocean, and also a retail market, where visitors can purchase fresh live seafood.

The Wet Market offers a large array of seafood such as lobsters, prawns, shrimps, crabs, squids, oysters, scallops, sea urchins and a wide selection of fish that you may not recognize. Other than fresh seafood, the market also offers a wide selection of vegetables, fruits, meat and poultry products for visitors to choose from. 

The fun part about visiting D'Talipapa Market was that we get to select and buy whatever seafood we want from any of the vendors and then take them to any of the restaurants nearby for cooking and serving. The restaurant will prepare and cook the seafood for you in whatever way you like at a minimal fee.

The market was actually smaller than that what we have expected. Even so, the interesting selection of seafood offered here would not disappoint. This is certainly a paradise for seafood lovers!

As you walked down the wet market, you will find all sorts of live seafood, fresh from the ocean, available in abundance. The freshness of seafood are guaranteed as there are a daily supply of lobsters from Palawan or Surigao, fish and shells from Iloilo, Roxas and Mainland Aklan. It is impossible to get seafood fresher than D'Talipapa in Boracay.

Fresh catches of the day are either kept in large water filled basins and tanks or are neatly arranged on trays or in plastic crates and covered in ice to keep them fresh for the rest of the day. The market is filled with vendors calling out the day's catch, who are desperate to attract the attention of seafood lovers.

Being a coastal town, many would expect the price of seafood to be ridiculously cheap in Boracay since they are brought directly from the local fishermen. However, seafood sold at D'Talipapa Market were not as cheap as many would think. Most of the local vendors will usually ask for a price higher than what they expect to receive because they expect to negotiate. So be prepared to haggle and negotiate for a lower price, especially when you are buying more than one item from the same vendor. It is highly likely that the vendors will rid you off if you do not haggle. After all, the market is always a great place for a bargain.

During lunch and dinner time. the market is bustling with both locals and tourists browsing for fresh seafood. Most of the seafood lovers were excited at thought of picking out their own seafood and were eager to try everything on display.

However, most vendors speak little English. To buy, simply choose the seafood you want. The vendor will type an amount into a calculator and hand it to you. This is when you will have to start the haggling process. Once you agree with the price, the vendor will then pack the items into individual plastic bags for you.

Haggling can be an entertainingly frustrating and time-consuming experience. It was difficult to haggle and prices are not always negotiable. I would suggest that you think about a maximum amount you are willing to pay for the item before you start bargaining.

Just as vendors usually starts with absurdly high prices, we decided to use the same trick by offering a much lower price than what we expected to pay in the end. Do not go overboard though. The original price usually lies around 75% of the asking price.Even so, I would suggest you to lower your starting price to only half of the original price. This will not only provide you more room to negotiate, but also keep the vendors happy.

Another trick that you can use is to ignore the vendors and try to walk away when they refused to lower their offer price, but usually they will not let you walk away without buying anything. This is when they will try to counter offer you another price lower than the original. You may have to repeat these steps for a few times until both parties can mutual agree on a price. Be firm, confident but polite while haggling. Do not let the vendors get to you, no matter how hard they push.

Of course, the key to making a good deal is knowing the real price.  But unfortunately, you will never know the real price of seafood in Boracay, so you will have no idea whether you are getting the best deal. Just pay if you are happy with the price and enjoy your meal.

Please bear in mind that some seafood in the market does command a premium price, especially when it is alive. Whether you want the seafood alive or dead will certainly make a huge difference in price. Crabs and lobsters, in particular, are not cheap, so do expect to pay a premium price to enjoy these.

We decided to spent a little extra on a live lobster this time. Walking down the Wet Market, we stopped at one of the stalls to inquire about the price of lobsters.

We were initially offered PHP 2,500 (about RM 227.30) for a middle-sized green lobster. That was definitely too expensive! So we started haggling over the price by lowering the asking price to PHP 1,500 (about RM 136.40). Of course, the vendor refused to accept our offered price and actually tried to convince us that PHP 2,500 was the best price we will get in Boracay.

Since they refused to lower the price of the lobster, we decided to ignore them and try to walk away. But just like what we expected, the vendor will not let you walk away just like that. They tried to counter-offer us another price lower than the original asking price, but higher than what we expected to pay.

We simply negotiated until we reached a compromise. Eventually, the vendor agreed to give us a 20% off. We paid PHP 2,000 (about RM 181.20) for the lobster. The lobster was not cheap, but well worth the cost because it was very much alive and kicking.

Other than the lobster, we also bought some middle sized prawns from the same vendor. We were initially offered 4 prawns for PHP 800 (about RM 72.73), which was obviously overpriced. So we started the haggling process again and eventually we paid PHP 500 (about RM 45) for 6 middle sized prawns.

In total, we paid PHP 3,000 (about RM 272.73) for a middle-sized lobster and 6 prawns. Not exactly cheap, but definitely worth the price. We decided to make the purchase even though we knew that we still overpaid. The entire haggling process took about half an hour. Haggling is tiring and extremely time-consuming. Even if we were not quite satisfied with the price, we do not want to start the process over and over again. Since we found the price quite reasonable, we decided to just pay and enjoy our meal.

Stepping out of the market, we randomly walked into a restaurant named "Natalia Kusina" to have our seafood feast prepared and served.

You can choose to reserve a table with a restaurant before making your purchases at the wet market. This will guarantee you a table after you have made your purchase.

We passed all our purchases to the owner of the restaurant and were given a cooking service menu to decide how we wanted our food to be cooked. The restaurant also offers side dishes and drinks that can be ordered separately from an ala carte menu.

Please note that the price paid for raw seafood is not inclusive of food preparation charges you would have to pay for your food twice - once to the vendors for the raw seafood and the other to the restaurant for the preparation of food.

Most of the restaurants at D'Talipapa charges approximately PHP 150 per kilogram for each dish, with condiments and ingredients included in the fee.

Stir Fried Kangkong with Garlic

Apart from our seafood purchase, we also ordered Stir Fried Kangkong with Garlic from the restaurant. The Kangkong was well-cooked, deliciously seasoned with garlic and salt. A very simple dish but incredibly tasty.

Grilled Lobster

Grilled to perfection, the meat is incredibly sweet and not too dry to eat. The meat is firm, chewy but not mushy. It was surprisingly  tender and meat comes off from the shell easily. Even without any garnishing, the meat is wonderful flavorful on its own. A delight to eat!

Salt & Pepper Prawns

The salt and pepper prawns are perfectly cooked with a bouncy, chewy bite. Taste is just right, savory, but not too salty. The prawns were incredibly fresh, tender and sweet. I am not a big fan of prawns, but I really enjoyed this dish.

Overall, the fish market experience was very interesting. The seafood we bought were very fresh and delicious. We paid PHP 500 for the cooking service and soft drinks. In total, we spent PHP 3,000 (about RM 272.73) to enjoy such an amazing feast.

D'Talipapa Market is definitely a place you should not miss when visiting Boracay. Dining at D'Talipapa is a great experience and even though it was a little expensive, it never disappoint. Do not miss this place if you are a seafood lover. This is where you will get to enjoy fresh seafood cooked the way you like. So, make sure you bring an empty stomach and plenty of cash so that you can try some of the freshly caught seafood in Boracay.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 4 days adventures in Boracay! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.