I have been wanting to tackle the Philippines for 5 years now. Atleast that was my plan before my life changed and I ended up in Sumatra. But the beauty of it now is I am based in south east Asia and getting to and from these amazing countries and cultures has now become less of a hurdle. This is my first foray into the Philippines and it is honestly the first of many and also my first trip taking the drone abroad. What a great combination for my landscape photography to have a drone to capture the new perspectives.
One of the great opportunities that helped make this trip a reality was the new promotion from Air Asia called the ASEAN PASS. A great way to see many of the countries around Asia by buying credits and redeeming them with flights around the ASEAN region. I bought a 20 point pass which I calculated could get me in and out of 5 different countries for around $300 AUD. Pretty amazing value to get to scoot around photographing the beautiful life and culture throughout Asia. So now after the Philippines I am planning my next trip through Myanmar.
The Camera Gear
I took quite a long time figuring out camera and lens combinations to take with me on this trip. I wanted to make the trip as light as possible due to the fact that I would also be taking the quad chopper with me in a backpack. So my regular camera gear I wanted to cut, but at the same time I wanted the two options of the DSLR and the mirrorless on me at all times, but my main focus was to utilise the mirrorless as much as possible to see if it would truly hold up as a replacement for the DSLR. It certainly makes for a good option when wanting to keep the weight down. So I had the two bodies and few select lenses from wide to long making for a light two bag trip including my clothes.
- DSLR Body
- Mirrorless A6000
- 2 wide angle lenses
- 1 long lens
- 1 manual 35mm nikon mount for the mirrorless
- DJI Phantom Drone
Cebu – Osmena Peak
I arrived in Cebu and it was my first stop out of 3 provinces for my trip. One night in Cebu city to photograph the Buddhist temple and then I had plans to rent a car and head to Dalagete for three days and photograph Osmena Peak and the Kawasana Falls. It was Easter weekend so the holiday season was in full swing and the churches were full with many crowds celebrating easter.
As I made my way down to Dalagete I stopped to photograph the famed San Guillermo de Aquitana Church in Dalagete. What an amazing piece of architecture and perfect timing to capture the Easter events held inside.
I arrived in Dalaguete and stayed on the beachside location and planned to go up to Osmena peak the next morning. From the coast of Dalaguete a ride on a rented motorbike or in my rental car was only about 20 minutes to the base of the peak. I met a few locals and made arrangements to get a guide to help carry my camera gear. There are plenty of guides waiting for any tourists to arrive. The hike up to the peak of Osmena is only about 15 minutes despite it looking a lot more.
The peak proved to be quite the spectacular spot and even though the weather was not favourable still managed to get two flights in with the drone and some sun set shots.
After initially photographing Osmena Peak I had planned to make a trip to Kawasana Falls the next morning and be on the road that night to Cebu City but unfortunately I got the wrong information about the roads heading to Kawasana Falls through the mountain range. I ended up on a mountain trail, which was exactly what the car rental company told me to avoid. I almost reached the point of no return before calling on 10 kids from a nearby village to help me reverse the car from one of the rockiest mountain trails I have ever seen. I was desperate to reach Kawasana Falls but unfortunately chose the wrong path. The kids were given a hefty reward as I can assure you I would have been stranded there for days had they not been there to help.
Luzon – Manila and Banaue Rice Terraces
After my 4 day trip through Cebu where I had learnt the lesson not to try to fit too much into each section I decided to drop a planned trip to see and photograph Vigan City and focus solely on visiting and photographing the Banaue Rice Terraces. I flew into Manila before making my way up to the Banaue Rice Terraces by bus. Manila I cannot recommend. I did spend a day in Manila before heading north and there was not much to photograph accept the historical churches, which are pretty amazing. I did not feel very safe in Manila. So I was glad to head north and get out into the open with the Banaue Rice Terraces. Unfortunately the bus trip took about 12 hours due to a failing bus (normally 8 hours).
Unfortunately the bus trip took about 12 hours due to a failing bus (normally 8 hours). The rice terraces and surrounding villages are amazing and the air cool and refreshing. A stunning location to spend a few days and turned out not to be enough time for my liking.
Flying over these amazing world heritage listed locations was such a treat to be able to do. There are 3 or 4 amazing village locations surrounding the Banaue Rice Terraces and worth spending easily a week there to see it all.
Palawan – El Nido
I’m very happy that I chose to do 3 different provinces over the 3 weeks and left what I thought would be the most rewarding location until last, mostly because I made quite a few mistakes in the first two weeks and was able to rectify those mistakes before reaching Palawan.
After quite an arduous 4 days tripping back and forth to the Banaue Rice Fields, back to Manila I then flew to Puerto Princessa and caught a private van directly from the airport to El Nido, a 5-6 hour journey. I finally arrived in El Nido after 32 hours of non stop travel from Luzon and found a spare room in a hotel despite the easter crowds. I woke the next morning to the sight of the amazing granite rock surrounding the quaint town of El Nido.
Once in El Nido I was easily able to find a tour organiser and haggle over the price for hiring a private boat. I knew straight away with the crowds that it would be ideal to have my own boat and start at sunrise to beat the crowds and that proved to be a winner. At $100 for a full day boat hire including lunch and my choice of locations, for a photographer that is all that is needed.
El Nido is simply a paradise like no other that I have experienced and plan to go back here as soon as I can. I spent a week in El Nido and managed to find a good backpacker lodge and secure my own small room for the week at 500 pesos per day (approx $10USD) so that didn’t hit the wallet hard. It was perfect as I didn’t want any luxury stay as I was there to photograph the location day and night and just needed a bed to sleep in more or less. Another point is that El Nido has no ATM’s so very important for a traveller to plan on taking enough cash hen in El Nido. In case of an emergency there is one of the pubs that secretly hides it’s own ATM you can use to take cash out but they charge a big percentage.
I spent four days out exploring the islands of El Nido from above and each day the views just got better and better. My crew were great and occasionally would always jump start the boat using two batteries, which didn’t always work. But they got the job done and it was an absolute blast to be scooting around the islands and stopping on little secret beaches to take flight and capture this beauty from the air.
I was sad to eventually leave El Nido. It was by far my favourite location and have promised a few locals to be back as soon as I can to capture more of this beautiful location and take a scuba dives as it has been a long time since I have been scuba diving.
I have to say this trip through the Philippines was not all smooth sailing. My initial plans I made saw me spending too little time in each place and not enough time to capture some great photos and a lot of time on the road. So my initial shot list was whittled down by 50% only a few days before I left. Really glad I did that because it gave me more time in 3 specific locations. That being said I still made other mistakes that cost me time.
- Mistake 1 – Attempting to photograph Osmena Peak and the Kawasana falls in one trip. I took a hire car for 3 days and expected to be able to finish shooting Osmena Peak and then cross the ranges to the west cost of Cebu. But the information I gained from the locals was incorrect or it was lost in translation as I nearly wrecked the car hire on one of the roughest roads I have ever experienced, period! I was extremely lucky about 10 local kids were around to help me out of a tough spot or I might have been stuck on a mountain road for some time. So I missed photographing Kawasana Falls due to not having enough time to re-route across the ranges.
- Mistake 2 – Not catching a bus directly to Banaue Rice Fields after arriving in Manila. I made a plan to hire a car upon arriving in Manila but the timing was not good for Easter and only expensive cars were available. So I decided to stay for one night in Manila and catch a bus the next day. But it turns out the best plan would have been to catch a bus later that evening as I was too late to discover. So I wasted an evening and 1 day in Manila which ate into my time at the Banaue Rice Terraces.
- Mistake 3 – Taking a group tour on the first day in El Nido. When I first arrived in El Nido I randomly met a tour operator and discussed the prices of group tours and also the prices of private hire for the boats. I had an inkling that group tours would not be the best option for the kind of photography that I needed. I decided to er on the side of caution and see a group tour first. I can honestly say from the moment we left the dock I new it was a mistake. I ended up privately renting a boat and two crew members for 3 days and would have made it four days had I not wasted a day on the group tour.
- Not buying the baggage limit online with Air Asia. Buying at the counter in the airport was not wise and something I simply forgot to take care of beforehand. Air Asia is one of those few airlines that require you to pay extra for your baggage and this is why they can cut such great flight deals to these locations. A lesson learned for next time.
- Not properly securing a guide for each location. I had talked to 3 different guides and locked in two but one week before the trip both dropped out. Luckily enough I was able to get around without too much difficulty but would have liked to have them around to save me from the previous mistakes I had made.