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My 21st Birthday in the Philippines (AND Two Other Countries): Golden Week Experience

By Zachary K., Loyola University Maryland, TBC Fall 2019 Semester Abroad Student

Now all of you might be thinking from the title, “Uh oh, that sounds crazy.” Well, you’d be right by saying that…partly. Let me explain.

Every year in China, people celebrate the national holiday by traveling around the country or even going abroad to visit other parts of Asia. Before coming to study at TBC, I had no clue, but my birthday and the Chinese National Holiday fall on the exact same day. This is how five of my good friends and I ended up buying tickets to the Palawan Islands in the Philippines for Golden Week.

Well, to be completely honest my luck ended when I found out I was off of school for my 21st. To start off the trip, our connecting flight from Beijing to Hong Kong, was conveniently delayed (Thanks to Cathay Pacific). This caused us to miss our flight to Manila, which then caused us to miss our flight from Manila to Coron, where we were supposed to stay for two nights. That did not happen. Instead we slept at the airport that night.

Next, during the trip after we finally got to Manila, we stayed in a hostel called Happy to Mingle. This was my first hostel stay ever, and it was interesting to say the least. Let’s just say it wasn’t too ‘Happy to Mingle’…at first. Also, if you ever find yourself staying in a cheap hostel in Southeast Asia, my one tip for you is: be prepared for mosquitos! Bring spray, bring lotion – bring it all.

Once we got to Coron, I began to see the natural beauty of Palawan. This is why I came to the Philippines; this was exactly what I expected after seeing the breathtaking pictures of the resort and beaches online.

After we arrived to our final destination in El Nido, my luck ended once again, when I ran out of cash on my Chinese Construction Bank card (this is a long story that started weeks before this, so I won’t get into the details). All I can tell you is a golden piece of advice for future golden week travelers. That is: always bring at least 200-300 USD more than what you initially thought (JUST IN CASE).

Speaking of cases. My last piece of advice is about exactly that…

After hoping off a boat tour during our second day in El Nido to see the incredibly clear water, naturally, our first inclination was “INSTAGRAM PICS”. We paddled out, and immediately found a group of foreign girls with the same idea. We bumped boats together to exchange phones, and took their pictures, and we paddled off. Although, before we went too far away one of the girls told me, “BE CAREFUL! You don’t want your phone to break.” I said back confidently, “Don’t worry, this iPhone is waterproof, and I have a case.” My friends chimed in, “Yeah, yeah, he’s ok!” and reassured them that my phone was safe and sound. As they paddled back out one of them said, “Your phone isn’t SALTWATER proof though…” My heart pretty much dropped through the kayak. Long story short, me and my friends have yet to upload ANY pictures we took that day in the Philippines.

My final piece of advice as you could guess is, of course: BEWARE OF SALTWATER AROUND IPHONES!!!

That Saturday (my birthday), we flew back at 3:55 AM from Manila to Hong Kong; then Hong Kong to Beijing, and got back on campus all before dinner time. The trip was now over.

After experiencing all of this chaos, lack of sleep, and pure craziness, you’d expect I would never want to do anything like this again, let alone suggest this trip to someone else. BUT this is where you’d be wrong. Visiting the Philippines was still one of the BEST vacations, and by far the coolest place I have ever been to. The fact that all those bad things happened, and I still had the time of my life should tell you something about how amazing it can be.

Manila is full of historical sites and is rich with diverse people and places to see. You can visit malls, walk the street markets – experiencing something new every day. For those who struggle with a foreign language, don’t worry – many people in the Philippines speak English.

In Palawan too, anywhere you go you can find delicious food like Halo and Adobo or any of the seafood (that is just off the charts). I noticed that the people there are extremely kind and friendly, so everyone we met was happy to talk with us.

Lastly, the weather and the ocean are some of the coolest parts as well. You can soak up the sun and get a nice tan on some of the best beaches in the world, before you head back to Beijing. Or, you can explore the insanely beautiful ocean life while snorkeling or scuba-diving in crystal clear blue water. The Philippines is known for its incredible aquatic life and water ways. This was by far my favorite part. And the best part – it’s cheap!

I don’t want to spoil this experience for you before you have the chance to go. All I can say is, if you want to get the most out of your Golden Week, go to the Philippines, because it’s well worth it.