I enjoyed touring the Philippines, nothing went really to plan but that just suits travel here. (Updated 2018 and again 2020, photos enhanced and couple of new photos added)
After my recent ride in northern Thailand I flew to Philippines to meet an old mate of mine. My plan was to rent bikes from Nice Bike in Angeles city which is the only large capacity rental shop in the Philippines and then ride around Luzon before heading off to other parts.
Arriving Bangkok from Chiang Mai I got stuck with my onward flight delayed 10 hours. This caused a series of cascading delays. Nice Bike have previously only had a few old worn out bikes but are now updating their fleet and soon will have some Kawasaki ER6 series bikes but at this time there was not a lot to choose from so I took their Honda CBR150 which most of the time would be enough as the roads are not suitable for speed.
First day and a few hours out noticed rear tyre was going down fast and upon inspection it had a puncture in the shape of a large cut, too big for a plug type repair. Now this was a bigger problem than elsewhere in the world as in Philippines most people ride scooters with smaller wheels. There were no shops selling tubes for 17” bike wheels (or new tyres) and those self inflation repair cans so popular elsewhere are not sold here either. After stopping at a couple of the many vulcaniser shops who fix tubes I eventually found a larger shop with the gear to remove the wheel and tyre.
The shop ground the inner of the tyre and glued a large vulcanising type patch on and then showed me the tyre had already 4 plugs in it all of which were perished so he replaced those and a few hours later I was back on the road. My confidence in the tyre making the full journey was mixed but the shop seemed to do a really good job and the tyre itself was still reasonable tread depth.
Originally the route was Angeles to Baler on east coast but no time so ended up riding north to Solano via San Jose. At the start of the mountain province and my spirits lifted once I was clear of the gridlock traffic and Jeepney diesel soot. The scenery and riding improved dramatically as we rode along some of the valleys. Most of the mountain passes were previously locations of fierce bloody battles in WW2 with the Japanese desperately trying to hold on to key passes in the later part of the war.
We got into Solano on dark but not problems to get a meal and room. My friend had some business to do in this town so we ended up spending a couple days there. I did some day tripping around the town of Solano and was only foreigner at the local markets and I got a haircut for $1.25. Some things like that are very cheap in Philippines but food and hotels were a bit expensive and low quality. I ended up eating only at Jollibee a Philippine fast food chain a lot which is like a cross between a KFC and McDonalds.
Pretty countryside and the OMG gas station
We rode on to visit the famous rice terraces of Banaue however we did not leave the main road so perhaps missed the better views.
I later was told by a local some of the photos on the net are labelled as the Banaue rice terraces but are actually taken nearer to Sadanga. I don’t mind as seen many in other countries.
Heading north to Bontoc and the scenery changed again. Initially the small mountains had a sub tropical feel to them. As you ride on the altitude increases and foliage changes from jungle to pine trees and the roads become more spectacular.
We came across a scene of tragic bus crash. They travel at reckless speed on these steep roads, not safe but locals have no choice.
About now my friend was having some problems with comfort on the XR200. The bike was fine and perhaps better suited to the mixed road conditions than my bike however he was carrying a huge amount of gear so he was sitting well forward where the seat narrows and not able to move around. I had pleaded with him to leave most of the stuff at the hotel until we returned, I left some things in their storage room and for a few days but he insisted to bring everything he had for a multi month stay on the bike ride.
Very rare to find espresso coffee in Philippines as mostly just instant coffee or drip filter brewed coffee borrowed from the Americans so I had to stop at the above cafe in Bontoc seeing the sign. Food was still crap.I had read about a mountain lodge located at Mt Data so we went off to there and the roads then truly became amazing as you climb from a valley floor to dizzy heights which I was not able to capture but are like European height. I do wish my good camera had not been broken on the Thai ride preceding this as the iPhone struggles with contrast.
That night at the lodge was very cold, log fire and many blankets – in the Philippines! Next day we rode above the clouds to the highest point in the Philippines road system and the scenery was superb every turn.
The road is good all the way to Baguio and down to the coast La Union also very scenic. It was cold up that high so I had my rain jacket under my mesh jacket and two t-shirts as well.
Down on the coast my friend was clearly uncomfortable riding and wanted to go back. I got frustrated a bit as just a few clothes in a backpack and the XR would have been fine. Looking back I should have tried swapping bikes but this simple idea did not come to mind at the time for reasons unknown.
Anyway hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was going to ride to Vigan then come back to the Bessang Pass but as it was I did not get far before the tyre got another puncture. This time the vulcaniser said I really need a tube and not to try tour further or I may end up be stranded in the mountain pass. So reluctantly I limped back to the coast then south to the bike shop stopping and reinflating the tyre each as needed. End of part one in Luzon, now we go to Manila and then to Cebu.
My mate did not want to ride around Bohol island so I went on the ferry.
Old Japanese bus rusting away on Cebu passenger port.
Alona beach is great, dismissed by Lonely Planet it has kept the development down and also the prices.
I foolishly got sunburned, quite bad so decided not to go riding and stay out of sun a couple of days to let things mend. There is a couple of bike rental areas and they have scooters and XR200’s there as well. The Bee Farm cafe grows it’s own fresh produce and I enjoyed some of the better food I have eaten in the Philippines but missed out seeing the island. Next I took a ferry to Dumaguete and my friend re-joined me there.
We took the morning ferry to Siquijor island and rented Honda XRM125 bikes to ride around which are a clutch less 4 speed model very popular in the Philippines.
Local gas station and attendants. Siquijor island is beautiful, the roads are well maintained and free of traffic so you can really enjoy exploring the island.
I did not want to leave.
It’s the real deal, an island off the tourist trail where time slows. I could have stayed there longer but I wanted to ride from Tanjay city to Santa Catalina. We tried but could not find any bike rentals. However I can see why many ex pats live there as it is both clean and not too busy yet has decent places the eat. Next was back to Cebu.
Crossing to Cebu island and the view near Oslob.
Once you cross onto Cebu island the road hugs the coast and is both very scenic and twisty and so another good ride would be north to about Dalagute but the road into Cebu city itself is congested.
I came across a place called MB’s Garden Hotel on the net who rent bikes so made my way to Lapu-Lapu on Mactan island across the water from Cebu city. MB’s turns out to be the biker clubhouse for the Outsider Motorcycle Club Philippines but it was not problem to stay and a nice place, very reasonable price with good food and cold beer. My friend did not like the bikers so we again went off to do our own things a few days.
Shanty towns that can be found everywhere in Philippines
I ended up taking a near brand new Yamaha YBR125 which was a full size bike but with small capacity engine. I think it was made in Indonesia and went quite well but the tyres were not good. Labelled Sony Power’s, I don’t recall Sony going into the tyre business.
The ride to the other side of Cebu island is superb. If you do this ride and want to see the best views people will say go to Tops but where they mean is the place that is signposted Mountain View Restaurant. Some clever people have made a sign marked Tops which takes you to a small lookout where you are slugged 100p entry. The other is far nicer and with lots of facilities, food and coffee.
My trusty old GPS above. The mighty YBR125 sits brooding below.
Below is view from Mountain view restaurant aka the real tops.
I spent a day exploring Mactan island but never found the nice beaches that people say are there so joined in a fiesta with many beautiful girls and very colourful and chaotic.
I also went to visit to the famous Simala church (above) but it is totally fake money making place.
End of part two in the Visayas (yes I should have broken this into separate posts)
Next I flew to the island of Palawan. My target destination was El Nido starting first in Puerto Princesa. The road from there to El Nido is the only one in the Philippines I have seen mentioned on the net as good riding. However my friend who had already been there said it was a too far to attempt on small bikes and the upper portion was unsealed and very rough and would be treacherous if it rained. I looked around Puerto Princesa and there were bike rental shops mostly with the XRM125 and a couple with Kawasaki 150 road trail bikes and yes they said very far and last part is dirt track so I took the bus which was 8 hours.
Puerto Princesa harbour
You could ride it no problems just break it into two days. The road is superb until the dirt, perhaps the best I have seen in the Philippines, well maintained, light traffic sweeping along beside the ocean and crossing a couple of mountain ranges. In El Nido there are more than 10 bike rental spots (not exaggerating) each with maybe one bike but nowhere much to ride as the sealed road ends about soon in any direction. I got my hotel to find me a XRM a bit cheaper and took a ride up north to Nactan beach. Getting there was at times challenging on the exposed stones, on a scooter with 14” wheels it would be impossible.
It is quite amazing to visit Twin beach and Nactan beach (above) and for there to be so few people. Great day out.Next I went to Las Cabanas and it is some sort of paradise.
El Nido town itself is a tourist trap with expensive rooms that do not have hot water or flushing toilets and poor quality food. I found a shop that was willing to do one way rental on a XRM back to Puerto Princesa but I got a bad roll of the dice in the shape of food poisoning which rendered me unable to stand up let alone ride. In summary then I enjoyed the trip despite getting ill (twice) and will revisit some time in future. Something I learnt for then is bring a couple of tyre repair solutions.
That’s all from me in the Philippines.