Alpas Hostel in Siargao: Hostel Review

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Another day another hostel. Today I'm going to review the Alpas Hostel in Siargao. The quaint retreat is located in General Luna, within 1.4 miles of Guyam Island and 1.4 miles of Cloud 9 Surfing Area.

I am starting to feel like Ed Norton in Fight Club. Letting go of all material possessions. I'm not missing TV. Not missing the meetings, the photoshoots, the constant chase for payments from brands. 

I am missing my family, a certain someone and of course, twinkle toes himself, Charlie the Frenchie. When we are reunited I imagine it will look like the end credits of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Timely reference. 

The Alpas Siargao offers a garden, a shared lounge a bar and most importantly a hammock. The property is 4.3 miles from Daku Island and 7.5 miles from Naked Island. (Not as kinky as it sounds). 

So let’s start with the bad and work our way to the good. 

TRUE - there are mosquito nets to use although I survived the night just fine with anti-pest repellent spray. 

TRUE - in some reviews I've read there is apparently an, 'unwater-like' smell to the supply. It was something I came across but wasn’t bad at all.

TRUE - There is WiFi, although quite slow. But there are many local bars and cafes where you'll be able to post those precious photos. 

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The best things about Alpas Hostel 

The ambience is really is what you'd expect. Relaxed, serene, picturesque. The staff are helpful and the owner was very good to me. Helping me hire a motorbike and giving me an itinerary of things to see and do around the islands. 

It can't be underestimated finding non-objective local advice. So many places are dependent on sending you to certain bars, shops and restaurants to earn commission. You only have to visit Hoi An to figure that out. 

The property is a hut style accommodation and whilst it doesn't come with a beach view, it is walking distance to the beach. Also you'll find a laundry shop, very important finding these conveniences when on the road.

It's a relatively new place so I'm hoping next time I'm back they'll make some modifications. But I'll definitely come back here. It's very chilled. It's very quiet. It's a bit of me. 

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Carl‘s Island Inn in Bantayan Island: Hotel Review

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I need to tell you about Carl's place. I know, you're probably going to expect me to make some pithy remark about nominative determinism. Still you have to admit it's a little uncanny right? 

Carl‘s Island Inn in Bantayan Island became my sanctuary for a few days. It has the basic amenities, fridge, shower, toiletries. The WiFi is super quick and I got satellite TV in my bedroom. 

What really distinguishes Carl‘s Island Inn like no other place is the service offered. I'd like to think it's because my name is Carl that I got a few special handshakes from the help. Who knows. But everyone came armed with a smile on their face. 

The Hotel is ran by a German-Filipino Couple. The Owner Karsten treated me like royalty and gave me a decent itinerary. He helped me organise some scooters and pointed me in the right direction as to where I could hire a boat to see some Whale Shark Site Seeing! If you want shuttle to the docks they will drive you with their private tricycle. Tony the concierge come-super hero transporter always had a smile on his face and made every trip seem like a pleasure. 

Carl‘s Island Inn is a short five minute walk from the beach and circa 15 minute walk from the city centre. Your best bet is to rent a scooter from the hotel and explore the island. The breakfast was healthy and had a good range. Continental mostly and included in the bill so no hidden costs on checkout. 

Personal note. You'll do well to eat healthy in the Philippines. Outside of The Farm in San Benito I've found the country crucially devoid of any healthy restaurants. It's not like the Bali vibe where you have smoothie stalls at every turn. It's very westernised, very fried chicken and not finger lickin' good. 

It's a very eco-conscious hotel that allows you to refill your bottle for free. They lend you a reusable stainless steel water bottle and canvas tote during your stay so you don't add to the single use plastic waste. Thumbs up for that one! 

Carl‘s Island Inn has only been open a short spell. Not even had a review on Trip Advisor yet at the time of me writing this. I'd say it's got a great future ahead of it. 

 

The Philippines: Home of Don Papa Rum & The Land of Smiles

The Philippines is a fascinating country of contrasts; of tranquil countryside and noisy urban sprawl; of vertiginous mountains and golden beaches; grinding poverty and ostentatious wealth. Many of the rural farmers carry on as though the last couple of hundred years never happened, while just up the road are humming mega-cities that appear transported from the future. It’s not a place for doing things by half.

I was lucky enough to spend the very best part of a week here recently at a few contrasting hotels. The first was a high rise in the relatively sleepy Bacolod City. The other, an oasis of calm in the chaos of Manilla, all thanks to Don Papa rum who invited a selection of the UK's top press and bloggers to experience this beautiful country where they make their famous rum. 

Don Papa Rum is a genuine Philippine premium rum, inspired by the island’s legendary revolutionary leader, Papa Isio and the dream-like landscape, Don Papa was launched in 2012 and now present in over 20 countries including France, Germany, Spain, UK, United States of America, South Africa, Belgium, Italy, and Japan.

The Seda Capitol Central hotel is smack bang in the middle of the ‘City of Smiles’ – Bacolod which is the capital of Negros island aka Sugerlandia, where Don Papa grows, harvests and processes the raw material sugar cane which produces the molasses for their rum. Efficiently, a short drive away is the Bago Distillery where the molasses is fermented, distilled, aged and turned into the finished product ready to be shipped and bottled.

The Philippines is the 3rd largest rum market worldwide with annual volumes of c. 15 Million cases, although most of this is for domestic consumption.
Starting from a small base, exports are increasing rapidly with annual growth of + 30% vs LY.
— Stephen Carroll, Don Papa's Founder

The first of these smiles was waiting for us at the airport, where our super friendly driver, Bayani, greeted us. It’s often said of a country that its greatest natural resource is its people. This isn’t always true, but it definitely is with the Philippines. The genuine friendliness and willingness to go out of their way to help were a constant throughout our stay.

Once at the hotel we were ready for a siesta, so after a long trip it was a relief to find that it errs on the side of luxurious. The entire hotel is very tastefully furnished – light and airy, rather than cosy, which of course is the last thing you need here! There’s good wifi throughout, much-needed air conditioning and an excellent, also much-needed, pool. The bed was one of those King-size+ jobs; you almost needed Satnav to find your way out. 

The brand new building overlooks the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, the Negros museum and the capitol building itself. Of course, being so central, it’s walking distance to everything, including Pala Pala seafood market, barely five minutes away and another five to the spectacular San Sebastian Church. As usual, when this close to the equator I divided my time between sightseeing outside and ducking into shops or popping back to the hotel for a little air-conditioned relief. It was great having such a central base that allowed us to do this. 

Before heading to the airport we had to fully immerse ourselves in the Filippino lifestyle, which for us Brits is a visit to a secluded island staying in traditional beach huts and we found this paradise in Lakawon. Finally we left time to visit the beautiful Ledesma ruins in neighbouring Talisay City. This was a little different to the English ruins I’ve become accustomed to. While those date back to medieval or even Roman times, Ledesma was built only last century. Despite the condensed history it’s well worth a visit, especially if you can arrange one around sunset. It made for a beautiful, romantic end to our visit to the city of smiles.

Flights from the UK: I flew with Philippine Airlines where you can experience service from the heart onboard the Philippines' only 4-star airline. Flying non-stop daily between London Heathrow and Manila, Philippine Airlines has full-flat beds in Business, with Economy Class also equipped with personal TVs, USB ports and onboard wi-fi. Enjoy in-flight dining with a vibrant mix of Asian, Spanish and American cuisine offering a mosaic of flavours that are all passionately prepared.

Here are the lead-in fares: 
LHR-MNL from GBP 579
LHR-BCD from GBP 670
 
Business (promo):
LHR-MNL from GBP 2989
LHR-BCD from GBP 3079

salamat sa pagkakaroon mo sa amin (thank you for having us).

Next stop, Manila…

The Henry Hotel Manila | Reviewed

Manila is not somewhere you go to get away from it all, it’s somewhere you go to embrace it all...all the honking, beeping, bartering, sweating, struggling, life that East Asia has to offer crammed into 16 square miles. It’s the most densely populated city on earth; there’s more humanity per square, sweaty inch here than anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully I’d organised a transfer with Henry hotel, so another smiling driver was waiting to whisk us away to this little oasis in the city…somewhere to get away from Manila, while staying right in it.

The Henry hotel is a beautiful, award winning colonial style hotel, barely ten minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s such a pleasant hideaway that I was sorely tempted to just hole up here for our entire Manila stay.

On our first day we did a very little of the semi-compulsory historica, taking in Intramuros (the walled city). However I’ve had my fill of churches recently and Manilla really feels like a modern, perhaps even futuristic city, so this was mainly the side we explored.

I enjoy aquariums so this was our next stop. This has all the usual bells and wet whistles you’d expect from a major city’s aquarium – an oceanarium, a transparent tunnel so you can walk through the middle of the ocean-within-an-ocean and tropical fish and tortoises aplenty. But what separates this aquarium from others like it are the experiences: swimming with sea lions, sting rays and even donning a mermaid/merman costume and learning to swim like a giant fish.

Day two was a lazier affair – a short walk to the shops…all of them…at once. The nearby Mall of Asia is a city under (and on top of) a roof. There really is everything here – cinemas, swimming pools, an ice rink, an enormous ferris wheel, numerous miniature gardens, a planetarium, all the restaurants under the sun (or at least hiding from it)…and it never ends; at one stage I could swear we were nearly back at my place in London…

After that we meandered back to the hotel and straight into the big beautiful pool.

I did enjoy Manila but I’m not sure I could live here. It’s a constant assault on the senses.

I could, however, quite happily settle down in the Henry hotel. Like many things in this part of the world it’s younger than it seems. Built just after the War, it has a turn-of-the-century look and feel. It’s a tropical homestead, complete with Spanish moss draped across the many trees in the surrounding gardens/jungle. The style is cool, minimal and understated throughout.

The service was also excellent while still managing to be relaxed and not in the least bit officious.

We were lucky enough to have booked the garden suite and I’m so glad we did. It resembles an antipodean bach or a Finnish sauna, though of course the last thing you’d want to do here is add more heat. The semi-outdoor rain shower adjoining the back of our suite added to the sense of being at one with nature, an amazing feat given the proximity to manic Manila.

There’s a small outdoor patio where we breakfasted before retreating back to cool, air-conditioned bliss.

It’s no surprise it has so many glowing five star reviews, nominations and awards. It deserves all of them and more. Quite simply, if you’re going to Manila, book early and go the Henry Hotel.  

 

THE HENRY HOTEL MANILA PHILIPPINES

Fairmont Makati Hotel Review | Financial Hub District in Manila, Philippines

From the outside, Fairmont Makati hotel in Manila, is an imperious yet featureless, searing glass tower supported by a protruding belly of stack bond masonry. I took a picture but know immediately that no editing or framing can heighten its appeal aesthetically. Still I was here, and it only took fifteen minutes in the taxi from the airport. 

The lobby chimed with wafts of waling. An explosion of yellow and green Chrysanthemums, tulips, lilies, sat centrally beneath strings of gold and yellow willowy glass, undoubtedly Murano. I jotted a puerile note in my diary whilst checking in, 'a beautiful mesmeric chaos of gigantic illuminated sperm'. Eat that Graham Greene. 

The red quartz stairwell that folded back upon itself to the upper floors was centred by a glass chandelier made from a hundred or so baubles, that had the drooped in a shape children do when they throw bed linen over themselves and pretend to be ghosts.

The room has an open feel and the hotel offers 280 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites with unparalleled views of the stunning Makati skyline. Mine was modern yet utterly utilitarian, with traditional ornate mahogany trimmings around the head of the bed. I cracked up a San Miguel from the fridge, a handsome $5AUD but there was simply no debating not having a beer after flying halfway around the world. I took a shower immediately after. The rain shower had a sublime pressure, probably in my top 3 showers I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. (Note: Idea for a coffee table book, Top 100 Best Hotel Showers. Actually scrap that, that's probably the worst idea I've ever had). And -there were towels aplenty.

The location of this hotel is great - right next to the Greenbelt which is known for its fantastic array of restaurants and boutiques. The Fairmont has a private underground walkway that provides guests with direct access to the nearby shopping malls and it is also connected to the Raffles hotel, which has a highly what some critics would call 'instagramable' rooftop bar.

The breakfast buffet had everything and now I'm back in the UK I'm already longing for some coconut drinks to go alongside my morning eggs. In the Spectrum dining area I chanced the seafood ceviche and the chicken adobo which didn't disappoint. 

SO Fairmont, your food is uniformly good, your location is ideal, your humble and courteous staff members need to be cloned and sent to the UK to show our hospitality industry how it's done, but whats going on with the WIFI? It was usable and the range reached everywhere in the hotel, but on occasions a pedestrian speed. At the time I thought the WIFI was great but that was only because I spent the last 4 nights in remote Philippines and was comparing it to a snails pace. That and the lack of USB ports by the bed to charge my electrical farm is something I'd look at for improvements. 

 

Fairmont Makati Hotel