After my recent ride in northern Thailand I flew to Philippines to meet an old friend. My plan was to rent bikes from Nice Bike in Angeles city and then ride a loop around the top of Luzon before heading off to other parts of the Philippines.
Arriving Bangkok from Chiang Mai I got stuck with my onward flight delayed 10 hours. This caused a series of cascading delays and ended up loosing the first of a few days from the tour. Nice Bike have previously only had a few old worn out bikes but are now updating their fleet and soon will have some Kawasaki ER6 series bikes but at this time there was not a lot to choose from so I took their Honda CBR150 which most of the time would be enough power as the roads are not suitable for speed.
First day and a few hours out noticed rear tyre was going down fast and upon inspection it had a puncture in the shape of a large cut, too big for a plug type repair. Now this was a bigger problem than elsewhere in the world as in Philippines people all ride scooters with smaller wheels. There were no shops selling tubes for 17” bike wheels (or new tyres) and those self inflation repair cans so popular elsewhere are not sold in SE Asia either. After stopping at a couple of the many vulcaniser shops who fix tubes we eventually found a larger shop with the gear to remove the wheel and tyre. The shop ground the inner of the tyre and glued a large vulcanising type patch on and then showed me the tyre had already 4 plugs in it all of which were perished so he replaced those and a few hours later I was back on the road. So a further half day lost and my confidence in the tyre making the full journey mixed but the shop seemed to do a really good job and the tyre itself was still reasonable tread depth.
Originally the route was Angeles to Baler on east coast but ended up to far behind schedule so we rode north to Solano via San Jose. At the start of the mountain province and my spirits lifted once I was clear of the gridlock traffic and Jeepney diesel soot found in all the Philippine cities. The scenery and riding improved dramatically as we rode along some of the valleys. Most of the mountain passes we would be riding were previously locations of fierce bloody battles in WW2 with the Japanese desperately trying to hold on to key passes in the later part of the war.
Introducing the CBR150 and the OMG petrol station.
My friend had some business to do at the town in route however he had not organised things well and we lost another day there so by now I had lost 3 days and had a tyre I was not sure of so decided to shorten the ride from originally going all the way north to Padudpud to a ride that stayed in the mountain province and a visit to Vigan then the 100 islands national park later, all of which is at worst not more than a long day drive away for a truck to come from the rental shop to collect the bike if it breaks.
I did some day tripping around the town of Solano and was only foreigner at the local markets where people were selling knock off designer jeans for a few dollars and I got a haircut for $1.25. Some things like that are very cheap in Philippines but food and hotels are actually quite expensive. We rode on to visit the famous rice terraces of Banaue however to be honest they were not as nice as photos suggest and I later found out the photos often on the net are labelled as the Banaue rice terraces but are actually taken at Sadanga.
Heading north to Bontoc and the scenery changed again. Initially the small mountains had a sub tropical feel to them. As you ride on the altitude increases and foliage changes from jungle to pine trees and the roads become more spectacular.
About now my friend was starting to make a lot of noise about being uncomfortable on the XR200 he had rented. The bike was fine and actually better suited to the mixed road conditions than my road focused bike however he was ridiculously carrying everything except the kitchen sink with him and the bike was so heavy loaded that he was forced to sit forward to make room for the baggage thus making his seating awkward.
I had read about a mountain lodge located at Mt Data so we headed off to there and the roads then truly became amazing as you climb from a valley floor to dizzy heights which I was not able to capture but looking down to the valley below which is itself already on top of a mountain made me think of the very high roads in Europe. I do wish my good camera had not been broken on the Thai ride preceding this as the iPhone struggles with contrast.
That night at the lodge was very cold, log fire and five blankets – in the Philippines! Next day we rode above the clouds to the highest point in the Philippines road system and the scenery was jaw dropping at nearly every turn.
The road is good all the way to Baguio and down to the coast La Union also very scenic. It was cold up that high so I had my rain jacket under my mesh jacket and then added two t-shirts as well.
Down on the coast my friend decided he was too uncomfortable to ride any further and I was frustrated that he had insisted to bring all his luggage and so I said I was going on and we split up after breakfast. In hindsight I should have realised that he was just not experienced at motorcycle travel and should have tried swapping bikes as well. I had the impression because he travelled often he would be like most experienced travellers a light packer but his style is the opposite to me. Travel to one spot and then stay there a long time so he always brings a ton of things and sets up like he is at home. I on the other hand am always moving and tend to buy small toiletries rather than lug large bottles from home and rarely have more than 5 changes of clothes with me.
Anyway hindsight is a wonderful thing… I was going to ride to Vigan then come back to the Bessang Pass, home to one of the worst Pacific WW2 land battles but as it was I did not get far before the tyre got another puncture. This time the vulcaniser said I need a new tyre and not to try tour further and he could not fix it but tried to plug yet another cut to make it a slow leak and I limped back to the bike shop stopping and reinflating the tyre as it got down low.
I was quite disappointed however I enjoyed what I did see, the high mountain roads were stunning. There was not time to go back as next I was flying to Cebu and taking the ferry to Bohol to ride around there a few days.
Old Japanese bus rusting away on Cebu passenger port.
What was it I said I planned to do… well unfortunately I foolishly got sunburned swimming and so decided to rest up and just enjoy Alona beach where I was staying. There is a couple of bike rental areas and they have scooters and the XR200’s there which I was going to try but just not able to go riding for a couple of days.
This place is under rated being dismissed in Lonely Planet so it still has a nice relaxed feel to it and has not become a tourist trap like Boracay.
Next I took a ferry to Dumaguete and my friend rejoined me there. We took another ferry to Siquijor island and rented Honda XRM125 bikes to ride around which are a clutch less 4 speed model very popular in the Philippines. Siquijor island is beautiful, the roads are well maintained and mostly free of traffic so you can really enjoy exploring the island.
Petrol station island style
I could have stayed there longer but my friend had talked about doing a ride from Dumaguete. Well you know how the plans have gone so far and again things did not work out as he decided he had to go to Cebu. I had not researched where to ride from Dumaguete and at the time with the poor internet available could not find much. Later on I found out that a popular ride is from Tanjay city to Santa Catalina which looks to wind its way through a spectacular mountain pass. Also a local ride would have been to the twin lakes but not knowing at the time I took a 6hr bus ride to Cebu where I was to do my next ride.
Crossing to Cebu island and the view near Oslob.
Once you cross onto Cebu island the road hugs the coast and is both very scenic and twisty and so another good ride would be north to about Dalagute but the road into Cebu city further north than this is not good.
I have previously ridden the mountains that lie in the middle of Cebu island however it was on a small scooter that was out of tune and I always wanted to revisit these roads on a full size bike. I came across a place called MB’s Garden Hotel on the net who rent big bikes so made my way there to Lapu-Lapu on Mactan island across the water from Cebu city. MB’s turns out to be the biker clubhouse for the Outsider Motorcycle Club Philippines but it was not problem to stay and a nice place, very reasonable price with good food and cold beer. My friend came to visit but did not like the place so we parted ways there.
Shanty towns that can be found everywhere in Philippines
MB’s had a rental shop mostly with cruisers which on Philippines roads don’t make any sense and a few standard bikes but most were booked and I ended up taking a near brand new Yamaha YBR125 which was a full size bike but with small capacity engine as is popular (and sometimes government limit) in SE Asia. I think it was made in Indonesia and like the CBR150 went quite well with a very high revving single cylinder but the tyres were not so nice. Labelled Sony Power’s, I don’t recall Sony going into the tyre business.
The ride to the other side of Cebu island is superb and I covered it (here) previously so just a couple more photos and the view overlooking Cebu City. If you do this ride and want to see the best views people will say go to Tops but where they mean is the place that is signposted Mountain View Restaurant. Some clever people have made a sign marked Tops which takes you to a small lookout where you are slugged 100p entry. The other is far nicer and with lots of facilities.
My trusty old GPS above. The mighty YBR125 sits brooding below.
I had previously spent a day exploring Mactan island but never found the nice beaches that people say are there so joined in a fiesta which was very colourful, noisy and chaotic – just how the Philippines is ha-ha.
I took my good camera out for a visit to a church (above) after realising I could use it with the electronic viewfinder still (after screen was cracked) but ended up putting it away for rest of trip still. I always intend to use it but the size means I end up only carrying the phone.
Next I flew to the island of Palawan. This trip was separate to the above travel but for convenience writing this blog I shall just continue. My target destination was El Nido starting first in Puerto Princesa. The road from there to El Nido is the only one in the Philippines I have seen mentioned on the net as good riding. However my friend who had already been there said it was a too far to attempt on small bikes and the upper portion was unsealed and very rough and would be treacherous if it rained.
I looked around Puerto Princesa and there were bike rental shops mostly with the XRM125 and a couple with Kawasaki 150 road trail bikes and yes they said very far and last part is dirt track so I took the bus which I was told would be up to 8 hours.
Puerto Princesa harbour
Well the road deserves the listing on Best Biking Roads, it is actually superb until the dirt, perhaps the best I have seen in the Philippines, well maintained, light traffic sweeping along beside the ocean and crossing a couple of mountain ranges. A beautiful road but I will admit the last 20 k of dirt is rough. It is being sealed in parts as of writing this and once finished will no doubt will attract lots of riders. I don’t mind a bit of dirt so it was attractive to me already I just had a sore knee from a slip trip and was unsure about riding that far but figured even on a XRM it would be no more than the bus which managed to do it in 7 hrs.
In El Nido there are more than 20 bike rental shops (not exaggerating) but nowhere much to ride as the sealed road ends about 5k in any direction. They do good business all the same renting at 700-900 peso, triple the standard rate to cashed up European backpackers who all seem to have read about the place in Lonely Planet.
I got my hotel to find me a XRM for 500peso and took a ride up north to Nactan beach and getting there was at times challenging on the loose stones and then dirt track that the road deteriorated to. It’s certainly a scenic area.
Above Twin beach and Nactan Beach. Below Las Cabanas.
El Nido town itself is a tourist trap in every sense with expensive rooms for rent that do not have hot water or flushing toilets and the dearest food I had yet encountered in Philippines. I was ready to leave after a couple of days so I found a shop that was willing to do one way rental on a XRM back to Puerto Princesa but I got one last bad roll of the dice in the shape of food poisoning which rendered me unable to stand up let alone ride.
In summary then I still enjoyed most of the trip and will revisit some time in future. Something I leant for then is bring a couple of tyre repair solutions! The stand out parts were the incredible highlands of the mountain province in Luzon and the great fun to island hop and explore by scooter. With over 7000 islands there is certainly a lot of places to go. The low points were the high cost of the often basic hotels and poor quality food. The later is a real put off when everywhere else in SE Asia has amazing food.
I would not let either deter you going just be prepared to spend much more than you would in other SE Asia countries for anything reasonable. Another thing to be prepared for it there are guns everywhere. There are security guards for just about anything and they all carry either hand guns or pump action shotguns. After awhile you get used to it and I grew up on a hobby farm with guns so am not anti gun or anything but it still might put some people on edge.
If you want a packaged tour then try the guys at Mabuhay Motorcycle Tours they have some nice looking tours. The small cruiser bikes they rent are really not all that suitable for the bumpy Philippine roads in my opinion but they seem to be expanding so could have some dual purpose bikes in the future.