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newtocebu

Philippines & Thailand, March 2020

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newtocebu

Warning – long, boring read!

( its gotta be better than reading about COVID-19 though! )

We flew from Brisbane to Bangkok ( Don Mueang ) on March 1st ( COVID-19 was barely a blip on the radar at that stage! )

The plane was around 2/5 full, so each of us had a whole row to ourselves to stretch out and move about the cabin at will

Arrival and immigration at DMK was quite easy – one of the guards in the irrigation area noticed we had two kids in tow ( ages 6 & 8 ) and said “you have babies”, and we were ushered through to the VIP desk to complete formalities

I had done some research prior to the flight and found that there was a free shuttle that runs between Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi Airports ( a trip of approx. 50km ), although, to avail the service you had to show proof of a connecting flight within the next 24 hours ( which we had )

After arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the shuttle, we took a taxi to our overnight accommodation, BS Residence, which was just a short ride from the airport

The driver was a friendly, chatty local that decided to switch the meter off about ¾ of the way into the trip – the meter was around 80THB at that stage, however, he said that we needed to pay 200THB – welcome to Thailand

Anyway, check in was smooth ( I had booked and paid for all accommodations prior to the trip ) – our family room was very large but simple, bathroom was also large and clean 

We ate dinner by the pool – food was absolutely delicious, and really cheap 

The room rate included a one way trip to the airport on the hotel shuttle, so the next morning we were off to Suvarnabhumi for our flight to Manila on Cebu Pacific

Flight to Manila was around ¾ full, and my assigned seat was right beside a very large Filipino gent – I asked one of the attendants if I could move to the empty row behind me after take off, to which she replied no ( these things always seem too difficult on Philippine carriers )

Anyway, we arrived to an absolute clusterf*ck of people at the immigration area at NAIA Terminal 3, and thankfully we got the same treatment as we did at Bangkok – a friendly guard approached us and also said “you have babies” and ushered us through to the diplomat desk

After exiting the terminal and a brief line up for a taxi, we were on our way to our overnight accommodation at Achievers Airport Hotel in Pasay ( taxi ride was on the meter without prompting )

Our family room at the hotel was quite small, however, it was furnished with one queen and two single beds, so everyone slept comfortably

We ate dinner at the hotel, their restaurant was quite a funky little set up and their food was excellent ( my wife and I took advantage of their 6 San Mig Light for 200PHP deal, twice! )

The room rate included breakfast, and a one way trip to the Airport in the hotel shuttle

Breakfast from a set menu was very basic but good, and before we knew it we were back at Terminal 3 for our domestic flight to Tacloban

We were traveling light ( each of us had a carry on bag only ), so we did the self check in and proceeded to the departure area via security

At this stage, we had already travelled through 4 different airports with the same belongings, and it was here where security decided that our insect repellent wouldn’t be allowed onto the plane 

After explaining nicely that it was within the guidelines, the guard “did us a favour” and let us proceed with the insect repellent

Arrival into Tacloban was an absolute mess – we were handed a COVID-19 form upon entry to the terminal, which needed to be filled out before they would let anyone leave ( why couldn’t they have handed the forms out on the flight!?! )

Anyway, after filling out the forms and being allowed to leave the terminal we jumped into a trike for a quick trip to the GT Tours depot downtown for our bus ride to Catbalogan

As typical of these types of services, it was a white knuckle edge of your seat type ride with a weary driver trying to make the trip in record time whilst ‘competing’ with every other road user

We eventually arrived into Catbalogan and onto our overnight accommodation in preparation for our boat ride across to my wifes village ( Astorga, Daram ) the following morning

We stayed at the Alegro Hotel, which again was quite simple but modern and clean

After a big dinner at Mang Inasal I decided to go for a walk around Imelda Marcos park, which was buzzing with live music and locals – it turned out that the majority of the locals were high school kids, and there were a couple of very creepy looking older foreigners hanging around, so I didn’t stick around there too long

The following morning we took a trike down to the sea-wall and jumped on the rickety old boat for the trip across to Daram, and upon arrival we observed the shear magnitude of the typhoon that ripped through the village on Christmas Eve 2019 ( I think I uploaded some photos on another thread elsewhere on the forum )

Whilst there were no reported casualties on the island, many homes were torn to shreds, and many are still living in what is still left standing and going about their daily business – got to love the resilience of these people

Life on the island is very simple – we only stayed for 3 days, however, it was a great experience for our two kids to re-connect with their cousins and have fun without television, ipads and other gadgets

For me, the days consisted of all day drinking and karaoke sessions with the men of my wifes family

After a few wonderful days in the village, we took my wifes siblings and their partners and kids over to the mainland for a few days away at Rosario Hills Resort, which is around 10km North of Catbalogan

Rosario Hills is not a flashy place by any means, it kind of reminded me of Bahia Resort on Mactan – it had a couple of pools, simple accommodations, huts for hire for day trippers ( they normally charge staying guests to hire these too, but since we booked a number of rooms for a couple of nights we got them free – gee, thanks! ) 

The day we arrived it was just our group in the whole place, so it was very quiet and another long drinking session ensued into the night

The following day ( Saturday ) was a totally different story – people started rolling in by the jeepney load, carrying whole roast pigs, pot after pot of rice, case after case of beer and spirits, you name it ( the resort is one of those typical BYO everything )

There was a live band playing some good old fashion rock and roll, kids were running around like absolute ferrals, people were drunk, loud and happy, groups of women were taking the obligatory selfies from every corner of the place to show off on Facebook  – it was a really good vibe

Just about each hut I passed I was invited in for some food and drink ( no idea how many shots of god knows what I did over the course of the day, in addition to the session in our own hut! )

Sadly, the following day it was time to check out and return to the sea wall in Catbalogan where the family set sail back to the village and we jumped back on a bus to Tacloban to begin the next part of our trip

I was pleasantly surprised that our bus was a near new, approx. 30 seater (?) with more legroom and head clearance than the normal 12-14 seaters (?) and that the driver did not seem to be in any hurry at all – easily the most comfortable ride I have had on any bus in the Philippines, ever

We jumped on a trike from the terminal downtown to our overnight accommodation, the Summit Hotel

I specifically chose this hotel for a few reasons – our flight back to Manila was late in the afternoon on the following day, and this hotel offered me a free late checkout, it had a pool ( to keep the kids entertained ) and it was right beside the new Robinsons mall ( for additional food options and to kill more time after check out )

As it turned out, the new Robinsons mall was closed due to a fire some months prior ( I had no idea! ), the kids couldn’t swim in the pool the following day because they were sick from the food from the restaurant from that night – apart from that, the room was really really nice and the hotel itself was actually a pretty classy place!

The hotel is still quite new, and the staff DEFINITELY needs more training, as I had one of the most bizarre experiences ive ever had in all my travels – I had just stepped out of the shower, and the doorbell rang with a simultaneous call of “housekeeping” as the housekeeper opened our room door to see me in all my glory and my wife wrapped in a towel, both of us with looks of total bemusement

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time we were left shaking our heads in disbelief at this hotel – just after checking in, we went out by the pool for the afternoon to chill out, whilst the kids were happily swimming my wife and I thought we would have a few beers at the poolside bar

There were no staff members behind the bar, so I decided to ask one of the three guys at the entrance to the pool area ( one who opens the door, the other who hands out towels, and the other who keeps a log of the room number ) if I could order some drinks, to which they replied “sorry sir, the bar staff is on their break and will be back in 1-2 hours”

Anyway, fast forward to checking in at the airport for our flight back to Manila – we still had the same four carry on bags with us, and even though we were well under our total baggage allowance ( which was 28kgs between four of us ), one bag weighed in at 8.5kgs ( limit was 7kg ), we were told that we had to repack our bags so we didn’t exceed the single bag limit

After trying to explain that we were well under the total allowance, and that no one else had to handle our bags, and that we had already been on several flights where one of the bags was over and the others were under 7kg, they still had to ‘tick that box’ and make us repack the bag – its more complicated in the Philippines!

Flight to Manila was an absolute hoot – my youngest boy decided to throw up on the floor just beside row 1 on his attempt to get to the toilet just after take off ( he would have made it if he hadn’t dropped his sick bag as he opened the toilet door – as he went to pick it up some a’hole Filipino almost bowled him over in his attempt to overtake him and get into the toilet )

After I cleaned up I received praise from the lovely flight crew ( so worth it! )

After touching down in Manila we were off to Achievers Airport Hotel in Pasay again for another overnight stay before our flight back to Bangkok the following morning

In what seemed like just a couple of hours ( which it was ), we were back in the airport shuttle and in NAIA Terminal 3 for our flight to Bangkok

After arriving into Bangkok and waiting for our domestic transfer to Phuket, we read of the Presidents decision to impose a total lockdown in Manila – sounds like we saved ourselves some hassle flying out early that morning!

The dining choices at Suvarnabhumi are excellent, and we decided on some Thai food before our flight to Phuket

The airport itself was swarming with people, however, we always felt a sense of organisation and calm – this proved to be short lived, as a very late plane change ( ie; we were already in a bus on the tarmac at the base of the stairs to the aircraft ) meant that we had to go back inside the terminal, go to a different gate, which meant a whole plane load of passengers had to go through a security checkpoint, AGAIN!, in order to go back into the departure gate area and eventually onto the plane

The flight landed approx. 30 minutes after its scheduled arrival time, which meant that it was the exact time I had booked our pick up service to transfer us to the resort ( I always factor in a 30 minute delay on these bookings )

Despite giving the transport company the wrong terminal number, a greeter was in the arrivals area outside the terminal with our name on a sign and ready to load us into the vehicle

After six flights and just as many different hotels in less than 10 days, I was ready to relax and unwind 

Before long we had checked into Graceland Resort Phuket ( which would be our accommodation for the next 10 days ), met up with our friends and enjoyed a nice cool San Miguel Light!

There was a slight hiccup at check in ( which I expected ) – at the time of booking I had booked a family room which consisted of 2 queen beds

When the booking went through it only showed 2 adult occupants, so when I called the resort and explained, they wanted an extra THB1,500 per night to accommodate 2 kids! It was very difficult trying to negotiate over the phone so decided I would do it at time of check in

After explaining that the room had enough beds to accommodate all four of us and we didn’t need rollaway beds ( which incur extra charges ), I said that I understood that the room rate only included breakfast for two, so I said I would be happy to pay up front for two kids breakfasts for each of the ten nights, which they happily accepted ( and was a hell of a lot cheaper than THB1,500 per night! )

This would be my wifes first trip to Thailand, and my second ( my first was a golf trip in 2019 )

We found Thailand, or Phuket specifically, very very expensive – prices for most things in THB seemed a bit higher than they were in PHP, however, we were getting approx. PHP32 to the AUD, and only approx. THB19 to the AUD

My wife loves Thai food ( my brother is married to a Thai lady who cooks in a Thai restaurant in Oz ) and was very happy with the quality of every meal we had during our trip, and thought that the Thai people were lovely

Everywhere we went the locals thought that my wife was Thai, and would start speaking to her in Thai – she quickly learned how to say “I don’t speak Thai” in the local tongue so as to not cause any embarrassment or have them believe she was ‘stuck up’ when they initiated conversation

The resort itself was absolutely outstanding – it occupies a lot of real estate along the Patong beachfront, and there were pools everywhere

Location was superb, with so many restaurants, bars and Walking Street close by

We were lucky to have been assigned a room in a newly renovated wing, so it was very clean, modern and comfortable

The staff were so polite and friendly, and the breakfast buffet had a great selection for all palates 

I was lucky enough to have a couple of games of golf whilst there, however, I would not recommend golf in Phuket for the budget conscious – the rounds I had at Red Mountain and Loch Palm cost a small fortune!

Our friend arranged a boat trip / island hopping day for us all – my advice would be to be careful about believing what some of these operators promise 

It turned out to be a very expensive boat cruise that drove by lots of nice looking places ( well they looked nice from a distance! )

As we entered our second week in Thailand, the resort and the local area had become a ghost town – occupancy was at an all time low, and bars and restaurants were closed ( our last 3-4 days were actually quite boring )

We were keeping a close eye on the news from home ( Oz ) and were only just starting to appreciate the magnitude COVID-19 was having on the world 

Unfortunately, all this hysteria prompted our Prime Minister to declare that he would close the borders – naturally, this scared a lot of the airlines as they then started cancelling flights

First, our flight from Phuket to Bangkok was cancelled – after being on hold for hours with the airline, I finally gave up and found flights on another airline ( at twice the price I originally paid! )

Then, the night before we were scheduled to fly back to Oz from Bangkok, the airline cancelled this flight as well

I spent about 6 hours on hold with this airline ( on our last night in Phuket! ) in an attempt to arrange alternative flights – I gave up on this too and booked with another airline ( again, at a much much higher price ) however, it was departing from Suvarnabhumi ( which meant we had to get on that shuttle service again from Don Mueang )

After making it back to Bangkok we stayed at a nice little hotel called AT Residence, which was only a short ride to / from Suvarnabhumi airport

To our surprise, the lady at the check in desk was a Filipina, and she gave us a fee late check out for the following day

The hotel architecture was quite unique, the room was spacious and comfy, and the rate included a cup of instant noodles for all occupants ( quite a good idea for those arriving late actually ), a set breakfast and a one way shuttle ride back to the airport

The cup of noodles didn’t really fulfil my appetite, so we got some food from the on site restaurant which was absolutely delicious

Unfortunately, the meal was soured because of more bad news – yep, you guessed it, another flight cancellation

I spent another sleepless night looking for flights home, the only ones I could find were weeks away and at totally ridiculous prices ( ie; tens of thousands of dollars each ) – I was in total stress out mode, not only couldn’t I find a way to get home, but both my boys were really sick at this stage and I was really worried about their health ( both had temps over 39 degrees! )

The following morning I received an email from a friend back in Oz pointing out a special flight that an airline had put on for stranded passengers, however, it was destined for Melbourne ( not Brisbane ) – I didn’t care at that stage, I just wanted to be back in Oz, so I booked it immediately ( again, paying through the nose! )

It was a looooong last day in Thailand ( the flight was scheduled to depart at almost midnight ), and our boys health was worsening

We were lucky to actually get into the airport, as the Thai government enforced strict conditions for passengers ( one of which included anyone with a high temperature would not be admitted entrance )

Both our boys temps were still in excess of 39 degrees on the way to the airport, and thankfully when they were tested upon entering the terminal the testers let them past ( the tester could obviously see the stress on our faces and gave me a look of ‘get going before anyone else sees’ )

We arrived around 4 hours before our flight, and the check in line was a mile long – after chatting with a few others in the line it seemed that many were in the same boat as us ( ie; had flights cancelled ), so people were keen to get to the airport and get that golden ticket!

After checking in and getting our boarding passes I felt a huge sense of relief

There were a lot of nervous murmurs amongst the passengers in the departure area when there was an announcement about our arriving plane being delayed, which resulted in a one hour delay

Once we were on board and the wheels went up, I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders – the only thing I had to worry about now was making our connecting flight from Melbourne to Brisbane ( which I had cut pretty fine )

About an hour before landing the pilot gave his usual speech and also mentioned that they didn’t have any incoming passenger card / immigration cards on board, so these had to be filled out after disembarking ( grrrrrr!!!! I like having these pre-filled so we can breeze through immigration ), and that we also had to fill out a self isolation declaration form which will also be handed to us upon arrival

I knew we were already cutting it fine to get to our connecting flight, but all this red-tape was going to cost us valuable time!

As the plane touched down, there were tears and cheers as it was obvious people were more happier than ever to be on home soil

I was half way through filling out the forms when my wife was finally able to get signal and do a web check in for our connecting flight ( we were a minute or two from missing the 45 minute cut off ) however, I knew we weren’t out of the woods yet – we had to clear immigration and customs first 

Luckily, we were the only international flight that had arrived that morning so we got through immigration quite quickly, however, my wife reminded me that she had some food to declare through customs, so we were ushered into the line expecting that our bags would be thoroughly searched

After a short wait the normally grumpy airport staff asked what we had to declare, and after telling them they just told us to go straight to the exit!

We walked at a very fast pace from the international to the domestic terminal at Tullamarine, and walked straight onto our next flight and they closed the door behind us!

We finally arrived home to an empty fridge and cupboard ( and we weren’t allowed to leave the house at all ), so thankfully a few of my wifes friends dropped some supplies that would get us through the next couple of days

After a brief phone consultation with a GP, he asked that we get the boys tested for COVID-19, which thankfully came back negative

Im never going on a bloody holiday ever again!

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BossHog

Read it. 

51 minutes ago, newtocebu said:

The hotel is still quite new, and the staff DEFINITELY needs more training, as I had one of the most bizarre experiences ive ever had in all my travels – I had just stepped out of the shower, and the doorbell rang with a simultaneous call of “housekeeping” as the housekeeper opened our room door to see me in all my glory and my wife wrapped in a towel, both of us with looks of total bemusement

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time we were left shaking our heads in disbelief at this hotel –

Stayed at the Summit in Tacloban in early March. There were very definite staffing issues. They sold me a beer poolside after a very long day of travel. Then a security guard came and took it away half full and said 'virus!' Screw that place. Stayed two nights because prepaid, but never again. The staff just didn't like the guests. Watched a Canadian guy absolutely lose his shit at the front desk when checking out,

But thanks for your lengthy report. Interesting read.

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Dafey
1 hour ago, newtocebu said:

boys tested for COVID-19, which thankfully came back negative

How are your boys now?

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newtocebu
1 hour ago, Dafey said:

How are your boys now?

Thanks Dafey

It took them both about a week after arriving home to come good

They both battled various bugs off and on the whole time we were away

Whatever it was they had just before leaving was the most difficult to shake

Over a week of dangerously high temperatures, loss of appetite and not being able to keep anything down sure knocked them around

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