My ‘Goodbye, Philippines’ tour before migrating overseas.
“Pilipinas muna” was the theme of the tour my Swedish partner and I had this time last year. Like many long-distance couples, our plans were pushed for almost three years which meant my promise of nice beaches, great food and unlimited hugs were put on hold.
So, when our borders opened, I made the ultimate itinerary on where to take my AFAM before he whisked me off to the other side of the world.
“AFAM” is short for “a foreigner assigned to Manila.” Well, I was the one who traveled to Scandinavia but fine, Martin’s my AFAM since I am the host. You know when you’re deprived of a craving and finally get to eat it? We binged on revenge travel and made it bougie. We deserved it.
My plan covered Coron, Cebu and Boracay. Once I booked the airlines, we were set to mark two anniversaries, four birthdays, my despedida and other milestones—a wholesale celebration of love.
Also, I was migrating to Sweden to settle with Martin, and had to get my fill of Philippine beaches before leaving.
It was Martin’s second time in the Philippines so I made a luxury itinerary, but still within budget. All resorts and hotels were secured on sale at the height of COVID-19, and booked (and rebooked!) via gift vouchers or on the Klook travel app. My plan covered Coron, Cebu and Boracay. Once I booked the airlines, we were set to mark two anniversaries, four birthdays, my despedida and other milestones—a wholesale celebration of love.
A mentor once told me that “the older you get, the more comfort you need while traveling.” It didn’t make sense then as I was about to go backpacking in Europe where I stayed at hostels with shared bathrooms. But now I and my lower back get it.
First stop of the ultimate tito and tita trip was Club Paradise in Coron, Palawan. Martin fell in love with it, and still longs for the fine white sand, crystal waters and the chicken wings. He was fascinated by the exotic animals and when someone asks what he misses in the Philippines, he would say, “I miss Irene’s family. I also miss Club Paradise every day.”
Dotted along the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Club Paradise is an exclusive island with a protected area rich in flora and fauna. We’ve been informed about the “free-range” turtles and bats at sunset, but I was so surprised to see a huge bayawak looking at the buffet, but then I was also looking at the buffet, as longingly.
Our stay was made even more romantic with the complimentary upgrade to a sunset villa with anniversary bubbly and mini charcuterie. I liked the snacks handed out the moment guests on the boat like food for the gods and ube-cheese palitaw. And since Club Paradise is a private island, all dining is in-house.
Next stop was Cebu for a city break aka weekend food tour. My Ate gifted us a booking at Marco Polo Plaza and a service car (I know, so spoiled). The Sunday brunch buffet at Café Marco had local specials like dried fish, Cebu lechon, otap, sikwate thick chocolate and puto maya rice cake, among so many others. The hotel’s El Viento pool bar’s mango shake was great, and the Lobby Lounge was a cozy spot for coffee paired with the award-winning Malicious chocolate-chip cookies. It was pretty great!
When in Cebu, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño is a requisite stop for me. I said a prayer and off we went to Da In Korean Restaurant, one of the many “unli” Korean restaurants in the city.
We also went to the mountainous Busay area to have wine and pizza at La Tegola Italian restaurant that offers a serene view of a forest. It was overcast but it was nice to see the greener part of Cebu near the center.
Our last stop was Boracay, and I was thankful that Shangri-La Boracay extended our stay twice (borders were closed, then foreign tourists were not allowed) and welcomed us with a bottle of wine and a whole Layered Honey Cake. It felt like a honeymoon! We did the tour of the property and had a steak dinner at Sirena Restaurant & Clifftop Bar which had a spectacular view of the sunset.
Buffet breakfast at Shangri-La Boracay was big, as in pizza, pares, roast beef, satay, sushi, gelato kind of big. We stayed there for five days and all those days I had chicken-feet dim sum which shocked Martin (”How do you even eat it?”) but he got over it by our last breakfast.
We explored Boracay dining: “the island’s fastest pizza” at Mövenpick Hotel, peri-peri chicken at Spicebird at D’Mall, mango cheesecake and tiramisu at Café del Sol. We also found a drop-off laundromat on Station 2 because by this time, we were out of clean clothes.
Our final resort was Discovery Shores Boracay which I booked using a Klook deal. I wanted to share with Martin the convenient experience of being on the White Sand strip and the signature Discovery World hospitality and true enough, we were greeted by a “Welcome Home” greeting and pralines.
A Boracay visit, for me, wouldn’t be complete with calamansi muffin at Real Coffee—it’s required. We had mojitos at Epic paired with a burger for him and sisig for me. On our last night, we met my Boracay-based friend Janice for some beer and wings at Los Indios Bravos.
It was a fulfilling and tiring trip, and reminiscing now made me even more homesick. It’s been a year since I moved to Gothenburg where summer evenings can be a chilly 15 degrees.
I gave away, donated and distributed 98 percent of my stuff, and managed to fit my new life in a few pieces of luggage. Before leaving Manila with my AFAM, we spent the farewell days at Belmont Hotel Manila eating chicken inasal and pecan pie to avoid the panic of going to the airport with the foreseeable traffic jam. We took walks in the calm of Newport City, stopping by the Shrine of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. You know the church to the airport with columnless interior and sleek rounded lines? That one.
The Belmont Hotel stay was actually a prize I won for a lifestyle article I wrote, and a cool-down moment after several sendoffs with friends and my family who saw us leave.
Our AFAM-friendly multi-island trip was awesome but I felt Martin got short-changed with adventure due to the limited time and my mobility since I was still recovering from a corrective Lasik-like surgery and didn’t want to swim for long in seawater.
Next trip around the Philippines would be more exciting. Antique is both thrilling and serene with its numerous waterfalls and kawa bath at Tibiao town. El Nido is a priority, and so is San Narciso in Palawan. I met a Swede who relocated to the Philippines to manage The Lokal Food & Beer Garden in Dauin, an island near Dumaguete known for fabulous dive sites. Martin is an introvert and would enjoy Bohol. There are just so many other beautiful islands in the Philippines to check out and delicacies to eat.
How to splurge…and save money
My tips for domestic travel, if one is to splurge:
Watch out for resort sales and check for free memberships that give guests dining credits.
Avoid too-good-to-be-true cheap airfares to avoid cancellations. We barely had delays and I booked the airlines at fair rates depending on the time we needed.
Know the happy hour at the bar and enjoy!
Take lots of photos and videos. Most resort staff would offer to take your pics and art-direct. They know the best angles. Trust.
Leave a good tip. Tipping is not practiced in Sweden so I explained to Martin how our tips can go a long way.
Layer sunscreen and insect repellent. This saved me from horrible niknik or sand mites that can ruin a trip.
A friend asked how much we spent and I don’t have an actual answer. My AFAM and I shared expenses and managed with the generosity of the people dear to us. Our travel binge hopefully contributed to Philippine tourism, and in time, we hope to be back because one can’t really get enough of pristine beaches—something I always talk about in Scandinavia.