From Bangkok to Manila

I’ve been on my holiday for five solid weeks now so I guess it is time to update my diary. Not everything has worked out as planned during my leave from work, but I have been to new places and met some really amazing people along the way.

My journey started from Phi Phi Islands in the beginning of March. I left the on the morning ferry and went straight from the harbor to the airport in Phuket. As I had no ticket when I arrived I looked trough the options with the different companies. Tickets from Phuket to Bangkok can be found for as low as 1700 Thai Baht, but I had to pay 2975 Thai Baht as the only flight available with reasonable waiting time was with Thai Airways.

BANGKOK
I had already found a couple of telephone numbers to hotels when I arrived in Bangkok in the early afternoon. The hotels I called was Majestic Suites, Grand Business Inn and Dynasty Inn, and the only one with available rooms was Dynasty Inn so I headed there. The price was 1480 Thai Baht for a room in the new building. I stayed in the old building before and did not like the room at all, so it was a nice surprise to see that the rooms in the new building was much nicer.

My only reason for travelling from Phuket to Bangkok was a digital camera and waterproof casing from Canon. I bought the system in Singapore just two months earlier, and on my fourth dive the waterproof casing got flooded. That resulted in a camera full of sea water so it couldn’t be used again. I suspected the waterproof casing to be faulty as it flooded when I took it on some test dives later without the camera. So I contacted Canon in Thailand and was told that I could send it to them.

I thought that an even idea then sending it to them would be to bring it to them. I went to the offices of Canon in Thailand on a Tuesday and told them that I needed it back by Friday as I had a airline ticket to Singapore that day. Was told by the assistant manager that it would be no problem and even got his cellular number. Friday came and I heard nothing, and after loads of calls from me that went unanswered I had to cancel my airline ticket. Tried to make contact trough the weekend as well but with no luck. On monday I was able to get hold of them, but the assistant manager was not willing to talk to me. I guess he was embarrassed. So I got the manager on the phone and he told me that they had done nothing as they had no instrument test with in Bangkok. I just couldn’t belive it as they could have told me that before I came to Bangkok and visited their offices.

SINGAPORE
After a wasted week in Bangkok I made a reservation on a Air Asia flight to Singapore. I paid 3140 Thai Baht for the ticket. Arrived in Singapore very late on a Tuesday and the hunt for a hotel started immediately. Singapore often got conventions going on so I normally make a reservation for a hotel before I arrive there. The only available option when I arrived without reservation was Carlton Hotel. It is a quite nice hotel, very central location, but also expensive for a person who live in this part of the world with 270 Singapore Dollar per night (+ 21 Singapore Dollar for Internet connection if that is needed per 24 hours).

Went to Canon in Singapore the following day and delivered my digital camera and waterproof casing to them. Got in contact with the assistant manager there as well and he gave me his cellular number so I could contact him directly if needed. He could not promise me an answer before monday as the testing would require some time.

My next stop after Singapore would be Sulawesi in Indonesia where I had planned some amazing diving. And where there is amazing diving a digital camera is needed. I did have a digital camera already, but it was flooded, and I had no idea if I would get it back when it was promised as experience with Canon told me I wouldn’t. So I went to the Scubacam who has lot of knowledge when it comes to digital cameras and waterproof casings. It was them who adviced me to buy my now flooded Canon camera in the first place.

Scubacam adviced me once more to buy the same brand and model that had been flooded as it was the best option for me and the chance for me being unlucky twice was slim. So I went to Sim Lim Square and bought a new Canon G7 with waterproof casing and memory cards. It cost me 1300 Singapore Dollar for the package. My plan was to sell the package that I had delivered to Canon in Singapore if I got it back and it worked.

While I was in Singapore I went to the cinema and saw the movie 300. Not my favorite movie of all times but it was a good movie. The cinema was located in the new Cathay Mall and before the movie started I went to a restaurant named The Indulge on ground floor. A restaurant I can not recommend for anyone. They cheated me for money and the food experience was the poorest I’ve experienced during all my stays in Singapore. The amount of money I was cheated for was not more than around 10 Singapore Dollar but it still should not have happened. I was charged for a dessert I never had and they did not honor my discount coupons they had given me to get me into their restaurant. My food was cold and the only positive thing I have to say about this restaurant is that their apple cider from South Africa was good.

I like Singapore so my remaining days was spent on several walking trips around the city and some great food at local restaurants. I reserved my ticket to Sulawesi in Indonesia on Friday, and the only available seats for the flight on Monday was business class tickets one way that went for 684 Singapore Dollar.

Monday came and the first thing I tried was to contact Canon in Singapore as they had promised me answers regarding the testing. Well, not unexpected it was impossible to get hold of anyone there that could give me any answers. What is it with Canon and customer service? Was lucky that I had already bought myself a new digital camera and waterproof casing so I would be able to take some photos during my upcoming dive holiday. The airplane departed in the evening and I arrived in Manado on Sulawesi at late night.

INDONESIA
When I arrived in Manado I had to buy a tourist visa for 30 days that set me back 25 U.S. Dollar. I collected my luggage and went to the waiting area. Had been in contact with a resort named Bastianos for weeks and got a really good deal with them. Part of the deal was that they would pick me up and get me to one of their resorts. They have two resorts and as I had made a reservation for a week divided on both of them they would give me all transfers for free.

As soon as I arrived at the waiting area between 5 and 15 guys was on me and asked if I wanted to go to a dive resort. I told them that I had made a reservation already and that it was with Bastianos. They just laughed and pointed me to a really nice guy. He apparently had not been told that I would be there so he was very surprised. The first thing he did was to get on the phone with the owner of Bastianos and was told that a car was on the way and that I had to wait for 10 minutes..

After 10 minutes a car arrived and I slept all the way to the city of Bitung. There a boat from Bastianos Lembeh picked me up and after a boat ride of 10 minutes we arrived at a very nice resort. I was welcomed by a German guy named Sven who was the General Manager there and got to my room. They have both standard and superior rooms there and my standard room was really nice.

Next day was my first day of diving. It was only me and a guy from Singapore who went out with a local divemaster named Bobby. The only guests on the resort was me, the Singaporean guy and a Swedish guy. I did 3 great dives that day and had a really nice time on the resort with amazing food. The day after the two others left and I was the only guest there so I got lot of attention from the staff.

Sven was a great host and I had all my meals together with him. So my days was divided between 3 amazing dives, food with Sven and relaxation in my room. After a couple of days I was told by Sven that the owner would arrive at late evening with some friends. So while we had our dinner they arrived and was ready for a good time as they had brought a guitar and some nice drinks.

I was invited to joined them and had the best time ever. Candy was the owner and she had brought with her Allan, Riska, Nadine, Ingrid, Kiki and Glenn. I became friends with them and the next two days was magic with lots of fun. Really feel lucky to have met them there and privileged to call most of them good friends now.

A total of 14 dives was done at Bastianos Lembeh and they was all great. The first 2 was with Bobby as divemaster and the 12 last was with a really nice guy named Winston as divemaster. I saw frogfishes of all kinds, scorpionfishes of all kinds, mimic octopus, several pygme seahorses, huge cobias, the largest Jenkins Stingray I have ever seen, electric clam, flamboyant cuttlefish, reef cuttlefish, pipefishes of all kinds and lots more. Never seen so much cool marine life at one spot before.

Next stop for me was Bastianos Bunaken. I went from Bitung with Candy and Ingrid and arrived in Manado a while later. There I was allowed to use Internet at the main office of the two resorts before I was transferred to the harbor. From the harbor it was a 40 minute boat ride to Bastianos Bunaken.

As Bastianos Lembeh is brand new and Bastianos Bunaken is a bit older there is some difference between them. But what Bastianos Bunaken lack in new buildings they have in a nicer beach. I had a bungalow on the beach that had been renovated just a month earlier. My neighbors was Kurt and Julie, a couple from Canada. I hung out with them most of the time and I did 6 dives in total with Kurt.

All my dives was done with a local divemaster named Steven. Lembeh and Bunaken dive wise is very different. In Lembeh there are very little corals and it is mostly shallow muck diving. Bunaken got huge areas of shallow coral gardens that turns into amazing wall dives where the walls are incredible deep. I saw turtles, two different kinds of sharks, pygmee seahorses, bluespotted stingrays, nudibranches, different kind of pipefishes, garden eels, moray eels and much more.

Next stop was Manado where I would stay a couple of days and wait for my flight to Davao in Philippines. I was picked up by Candy and she set me up at Gran Central Hotel where I paid 340.000 Indonesian Rupiah per night. This was a really nice hotel with free broadband Internet. First night I was invited to eat dinner with Allan, Candy, Ingrid and a couple of their friends. Allan picked me up and took me to a new and really nice restaurant. To my surprise Sven was there as well as he had a meeting in Manado earlier that day. After dinner Candy had to go home to her family and Ingrid headed of as well. The rest of us went to a disco and had a really cool night out. One of us got so drunk that a wheelchair had to be used to get him out, so a bit of alcohol was consumed. A friend of Candy had been told by her to get me home safe and well, so she drove me back to my hotel. I couldn’t belive how caring my newly found friends was.

The day after I was offered to go to the countryside with Allan, but I declined as I was rather tired. So I slept most of the day away and in the evening Allan picked me up and took me to a new and nice restaurant that a friend owned. There was Candy, Ingrid and a couple of more friends as well. Went home early that night as I had to be on the airport at 7 A.M.

Allan came to my hotel at 6 A.M. to wake me up and we had some breakfast at the hotel, before he drove me to the airport. I had to buy my ticket to Davao in Philippines there and he fixed it all for me. The ticket was pretty expensive at 130 U.S. Dollar with a flight time of just about 50 minutes or so.

Said good bye for now to Allan and thanked him for the amazing time he and his friends had created for me while I was in Indonesia. It is hard to find good friend these days, but I really feel that Candy, Allan, Riska, Ingrid and Nadine are good friends. Will see some of them on a dive convention in Bangkok in the end of April and really looking forward to that.

PHILIPPINES
Sat beside a young Swedish man who did a visa run on the airplane to Davao. He had married a Indonesian girl and invested 400 million Indonesian Rupiah in a fishing boat on Sulawesi and made a good living out of it. We had a good chat before the airplane arrived on the new airport in Davao. Tried to find a regular taxi but there was none so I had to go with a guy who owned the oldest car I’ve seen in years. He wanted 400 Philippine Pesos to take me to the city of Davao. Included was a detour to a ATM machine as there was none on the airport, and to be able to pay him I needed some money.

Took a while to find a ATM that accepted VISA cards, but after it was found I was taken to The Royal Mandaya Hotel. It was very centrally located in the city of Davao and they charged me 2200 Philippine Peso per night. My room was basic and not to nice, but good enough to sleep in. The City of Davao is one of the largest in the world if you look at the land area, but the city center itself is not that large. So I never used a taxi for the two days I was there, but enjoyed walking around.

Planned to do some diving while I was in Davao as they have some dive spots not to far from the city. But after talking to some western people who live there I didn’t bother as they said the marine life and visibility at the time was not so good. I spent my days getting used to the city life in Philippines and had some really good food.

The best restaurant I’ve visited so far during my trip was without doubt De Bonte Koe. It has a central location in the city center. The owner is a very helpful man from Holland who also own a great Spanish restaurant next door. You should not miss these restaurants if you ever visit Davao, I know for sure I will eat there next time I get there.

A couple of days goes by very fast so it was time for me to get to Cebu. I made a reservation with Cebu Pacific Airlines to Cebu the night before at the cost of 2321 Philippine Peso. The only available flight had departure at 7 A.M. so I had to be at the airport very early. Boarded a Airbus 319 with ampble space, and was served a pineapple juice to drink during the trip. And around 1 hour later I arrived at the airport in Cebu.

At the information counter a helpful guy made a reservation for me in a deluxe room at Richmond Plaza Hotel for the price of 1800 Philippine Peso per night. My plan was to get to Malapasqua and stay there some days to do world class diving. But when I arrived in Cebu and called the resort they told me that there was no rooms available. Tried to tell them that I had made a confirmed reservation several weeks before but was told that it didn’t matter as they were fully booked.

So I only got one day of diving at Malapasqua as I did a two day trip, but did not see the thrasher shark that I had come to see. Did spot a lone hammerhead shark in a distance and a lot of nice marine life.

The rest of the days in Cebu was spent as a tourist visiting all the regular spots, eating at some nice local restaurants and checking out some nice malls. Also met a couple of really nice people there that took pride in showing me their city.

Had to change hotel after a couple of days, and got a room at Golden Prince Suites for 1550 Philippine Peso per night. In my last hotel I had a deluxe room and in this one I got a standard room, but this was much nicer then the first one. Internet was also available in all rooms for 60 Philippine Peso per hour or 500 Philippine Peso per day.

Cebu was a nice place, but I was very disappointed that my plans to dive there for a full week did not work out. So after some days I made a reservation for a ticket with Cebu Pacific to Manila for the price of 2814 Philippine Peso.

Same kind of airplane as from Davao to Cebu, but on this one my seat was so damaged that it was very uncomfortable to sit in. My complaints was not heard as the airplane was full and there was no available seats. So I arrived in Manila with cramp in my legs and a back that had seen better days.

I bought myself a SIM card with a telephone number in Cebu for 99 Philippine Peso, so I called up Best Western Hotel La Corona when I arrived at the airport. They had available standard rooms with breakfast for 2600 Philippine Peso per night. The queue to metered taxis was so long that I took a limousine from the airport to the hotel for 530 Philippine Pesos. Arrived at the hotel after 30 minutes and liked it immediate as it had great staff. There was free wireless Internet at the lobby (that seldom worked), the room had all amenities that could be asked for and some sort of breakfast was included.

My only reason for travelling to Manila was to get tourist visas to India and Thailand. I needed one to India as my friends Wayne and Sian was there to visit our friend Jez who own a dive shop in the Andaman Islands. But when I got to the Embassy of India I was told that it would take a full week to process my application. Therefor I could just forget about a trip to India at that point as I needed to be in Thailand just two weeks later.

My next stop was the Embassy of Thailand to apply for a tourist visa there. The processing would take one working day so that was nice. But when I arrived there they wanted bank account statements, proof that I had a job or studied back home in Norway and lots of other stuff I’ve never had to add to the application before.

So even if I know it can be hard to get a tourist visa for me at the Embassy of Thailand in Singapore I will take my chances there. The reason why it can be hard for me to get it in Singapore is that I have been to Thailand very often the past years and they do not like that for some reason. But at least all they need there to process my application is one passport photo and it is free of charge.

I made a reservation for a one way ticket to Singapore with Cebu Pacific Airline for the price of 6800 Philippine Peso. Departure date should be April 14, but by a mistake somewhere my ticket said April 12. When I tried to call Cebu Pacific Airline to get it corrected I was told that I had to pay a fee of 3000 Philippine Peso. In addition to that I had to pay 6500 Philippine Peso extra for the ticket on April 14 as they had no cheap tickets left. So it would cost me 9500 Philippine Peso to do the re-booking after an error had happened. I got irritated and cancelled it for a fee of 3000 Philippine Peso and made a reservation for a one way ticket with Singapore Airlines for 9000 Philippine Peso instead.

(This post was written in April 2007 for my old blog, and moved here)

Author Details

Sean Kjetil Nordbo

Enthusiastic and energetic. Love life and all it has to offer. A lover of humans, animals, technology, the universe and everything else that is good.

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