Two weeks of vacation in Southeast Asia? With our TOP 4 itineraries, we have something for beach lovers this time:
Imagine Thailand, just nicer beaches, better diving and snorkeling, and fewer people. You’ll find it in the Philippines. Everyone speaks English and – unlike in other countries in Southeast Asia - Filipinos travel frequently themselves, making this an easy and fun trip even for beginners. Besides great beaches, this trip also offers some city sightseeing and marvelous landscapes.
Stop 1: Manila
Fly into Manila and spend a few days there to acclimatize. Manila doesn’t have much to offer in terms of city sightseeing, but the old town, called Intramuros, is worth a visit. Unfortunately, most of Intramuros was destroyed in World War II and many buildings are only ruins.
Manila also has a plethora of shopping malls offering everything from cheap electronics to clothes and souvenirs, but it is probably better to buy the latter at the end of your trip. In the evenings, head to the bars and clubs: Manila has a very busy nightlife scene.
When you have seen enough - typically after 2-3 days - get ready for a full night bus trip north to Banaue.
Stop 2: Banaue & Batad Rice Terraces
Welcome to Asia’s most beautiful rice terraces. If you have been to Bali, forget it. Banaue and Batad is the real thing. Make Banaue your base and find a decent hotel – look for one with a view. Drop your bags and spend one day walking around the rice fields near Banaue.
On the second day, book a trip to Batad. We are sure these are the most spectacular rice fields you will ever see in your life. Let the bus drop you at the start of the walking trek, then follow your guide to Batad Village and on to the waterfall. Just keep some energy for the way back up. It will be long and tiring!
With time, you can spend a third day in the area and organize a transport to the viewpoint north of Banaue. The viewpoint is a little too far to reach on foot, but it is easily accessible and located right off the main street. You will have great views over the rice paddies back down to Banaue. With limited time, try to squeeze in the viewpoint on Day 1 or 2.
And then bus all the way back to Manila.
Stop 3: Boracay
After city sightseeing, rice fields and long bus trips, you have earned a few days on the beach. And not any beach – make it Boracay, the most beautiful beach in Southeast Asia, if not in the world.
Pre-book a cheap domestic flight from Manila to Caticlan, gateway to Boracay. From Caticlan airport, you are just minutes away from Boracay. Boats will drop you off at Boracay’s southern end, from where motorbikes (fast) and motorbike trishaws (slow) will bring you directly to your hotel.
Boracay’s main beach is on the western side, and this is where almost everybody stays – and that’s a good choice. The main beach is 3 km long, and loosely divided from north to south into Boat Station 1, 2 and 3. Most restaurants, shops and bars are located at Station 2. We recommend you stay near Station 3, or even south of it. Here, the beach is the nicest, the least crowded, and the accommodation the least expensive. Station 2 is just a few minutes’ walk away.
Boracay has super-soft sand, you will even hear it squeaking under your feet when you walk. The water is crystal clear, and the vibe is just perfect. Spend a few days here, and just relax!
When its time to leave and you have 2-3 days to spare, we recommend taking the boat and bus for your way back to Manila. Firstly, this gives you a great impression on the distances. Secondly, it is fun. Thirdly, you have a good chance to spot dolphins next to your boat. Lastly, you can make a stopover in Puerto Galera to say bye-bye to the beach. Get up very early in the morning to make it in one day from Boracay to Puerto Galera.
Stop 4: Extensions to Malapascua, Bohol or Palawan
If you have extra time, there are more fantastic options to extend your trip. To avoid unnecessary long boat and bus trips, each of them involves flying. We recommend to plan and book ahead.
Option 1: Malapascua
Malapascua is a tiny island at the northern tip of Cebu Island, and feels like Boracay a couple of years or decades ago.
Malapascua’s beaches are almost as nice as Boracay, and there are far fewer people on the beach. Most people come here for big fish diving: In the season, hammerheads, thresher sharks and manta rays are almost guaranteed for advanced divers - some of the best diving in Southeast Asia. Also reserve a few hours to walk around the island.
You best reach Malapascua by plane to Cebu City, and then by bus north to Maya. From there it is only a short trip by boat. Boats leave roughly every hour until 4-5 pm.
Option 2: Bohol
Base yourself in Alona Beach, which the Lonely Planet describes as a “Mini Boracay”. Alona Beach is actually located on Panglao Island, connected to Bohol by two bridges. There is fantastic diving off Panglao Island, with large schools of colorful fish and turtles on almost every dive - and the beach is very nice as well.
Bohol itself offers the famous Chocolate Hills, a picturesque assembly of green and brown mini-hills as far as your eyes can see. On your visit there, stop at the Tarsier Farm and stare at the cute “mini-monkeys”. We bet Tarsiers must have been the inspiration of the 80’ies Monchhichi stuffed toy monkeys. Remember those?
To get to Bohol, fly into Tagbilaran Airport. Taxis and Motorbikes will await you at the airport and bring you straight to your hotel.
Option 3: Palawan
Fly into Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island and try to catch a mini-bus to El Nido as soon as possible. El Nido is the access point to the Bacuit Bay Archipelago, which offers stunning islands, picturesque limestone cliffs and great beaches (but only a handful of them as nice as Boracay).
If you have been to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, the scenery will look familiar. El Nido itself is rather dull, so don’t spend too much time in town. Rather use it as a base to book day trips into the Bacuit Bay.
Palawan also offers the Underground River in Sabang, which recently made it to the New 7 Wonders of the World list, thanks to a large Government marketing campaign. This means the place is overcrowded with tourists, most of them Filipinos.
You will be put in a boat and ride into the river for just 1.5 kilometers. During your ride, your guide will compare the stalactites and stalagmites to animals, people and other funny situations as they pass along. We guess it won’t take long until Disneyland will copy the concept – and we are still unsure if it wasn’t the other way round.
Note that you may still need a permit to visit the Underground River. With so many people wanting to visit the New Wonder, this means you need to book months ahead or show up in the Puerto Princesa Tourism Office early in the morning and be lucky.
Our GuideGecko Rating for this trip:
Beaches: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Boracay tops it all)
City Sightseeing: **(2 of 5 stars: There’s just Intramuros in Manila)
Landscapes: **** (4 of 5 stars: The rice paddies in Batad are great, and the Chocolate Hills on Bohol are cute)
Cultural spots: - (nada: Sorry!)
Want more suggestions?
This suggested itinerary is one of our TOP-4 trip recommendations for 2 Weeks in Asia. Also check our other suggested itineraries for:
Have questions or want to suggest something else? Let’s discuss!