Fortune shines. Lucky to have been diving in the Philippines between typhoons. Got there after Xangsane and came back right before this current one is hitting. Supposedly past typhoon season already but there's global warming for you!
Amazing experience, the Philippines. Beers under a dollar, wide choice of reasonably priced cuisines at Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, friendly service and an excellent time. Very Danish and German influence in modern terms - almost like a northern european getaway much like some parts of Thailand. But there is a large Korean presence as well in the form of two or three of the larger dive shops. Apparently the Japanese were a large crowd in the 90s but have since been replaced by the Koreans. Now Singaporeans are beginning to make inroads there.
Expect to spend about SGD $20 a day on food and beer for 3 meals if you go average. Meal and drink for SGD $1.50 if you have it at a beach stand up to SGD $35 for two with buffet style appetizers, BBQ pork chop and rump steak (about 15 ounces and 20 ounces respectively) topped off with drinks and desert.
Nitrox USD $7 more, night dives USD $7 more.
Those who have been to Manado and Sipadan would probably consider Puerto Galera (PG) an appetizer of sorts. Marine life is rich but not quite Sipadan, colourful but not quite Manado in terms of muck diving. Feather stars abound in almost unbelievable quantities. So if you're a crinoid family fan then PG is the place to be. All the colours of the rainbow.
About half the dive shops dive out of speedboats and the other half dive out of 'bancas.' I think bancas are a really cool way of short distance sea travel if one is not in a rush. basically a wooden boat with supporting outriggers on both port and starboard sides. Diving bancas I've seen can present some problems where the wooden ladder attached to the side specifically for diving reaches less then a foot into the surface of the sea. Some gymnastics required to climb into bancas!
People are nice and unpretentious. Of course you get everyone trying to sell you everything from friendship bands to large conches, DVDs, sunglasses and everything in between.
The diving actually occurs in a small seaside town called Sabang, the main town of Puerto Galera is under an hours car ride away.
Dive Sites 1 minute away:
Sabang Wreck - 20M excellent, 3 man made wrecks, hairy 'maine style' mini lobsters, pretty crabs, giant moray, giant turtle, white painted frog, regular frog, cuttlefish feeding, strange jellyfishes (small stingless ones)
Sabang Bay - 16M, mostly < 10M, great muck diving, angler frog, sea moths (some call these sea chickens?), pipe fish, white saddle backed clowns (never seen before), great variety of anemone shrimps on soft coral, if you get your navigation right you can do your safety stop under either floating bar that is anchored in the bay in about 5M of water, ascend to 80s music and dancing women
Dive Sites 3 minutes away:
Lalaguna - 22M, not much, lots of sand, more corals at shallower depths
MV Elma Jane - 32M, resident octopus, green and pink frog (believe it or not)
Dry Dock - 27M, pygmy seahorse x 2 (a very fat pygmy or pregnant maybe), resident black frog, giant lions, blue water safety stop
Monkey Beach - 20M, easy reef diving, cuttlefish, batfish, nudis galore if you look closely
Dive Sites 4 to 5 minutes away:
The Steps (Kilima) - up to 25M but did night dive and never went below 8M as macro life was rather incredible, sand crab (camouflaged to look like sea bed), colourful miniature crabs on vase corals, nudis, hermits
Shark Cave - 30M, as the name implies, 2 or 3 resident white tips, docile, not much thereafter (let down after Sipadan)
Canyons - 30M +, solid drift dive in excess of 3 kts, fly over the beautiful corals and watch the larger emperor fishes hold their own in the current for food that comes by, some quiet spots where you can do some nice photography, great sea fans of different colours but deep, blue water safety stop
Fish Bowl - 40M +, another solid drift, faster then Canyons, giant trevally estimated at 1.2 to 1.5M long, too fast to see anything else, blue water safety stop
Hole-in-the-Wall / Pink Wall / Ernies Cave - above Shark Cave and Canyons, easy dive, slight drift, see the local creatures like schooling emperors, some angels, some nasi lemak fish, swim through at about 12M where the water actually pushes you through if you enter from the deep end, ending up at Pink Wall for your deco ....... pink because of the colour of the corals there. More a reef then a wall. Ernie's Cave is just that, small cave underwater at about 14M, nothing much.
Sinandigan Wall - 25M, misnomer, more a reef, ridiculously rich with corals and smaller common marine life, look hard for some nice nudis and the less common triggerfishes like bursa triggers
Dive Sites away:
30 minutes day trip; Verde Island Drop Off, 40M+, >3kts drift during tidal changes, like a mini Sipadan, rich life, wonderful dive with turtles, blue triggers, map puffers (arothron?), schooling jacks (but nothing like Southpoint in Sipadan), schooling juvenile yellowtail barras - top off 2 dives at Verde Drop Off consecutively with a nicely done all you can eat BBQ with free flow of drinks on the nearby lsland, additional USD $25 per pax for this trip but the food and the diving made it worth the extra.
20 minutes ride out: Washing Machine, supposedly a high voltage and non-linear drift dive but I guess they had a 'brown out' while we were there, the washing machine was broken.
Tina's - far left side of Sabang Beach if you're looking at the beach from the water, priced about 30% to 40% lower then 'in town' for local Philippino food. Nice ambience but gets crowded very fast during dinner. Go early or late.
Beach stand in front of Atlantis. Good for quick lunch, cheeseburgers at SGD $1 and soft drinks at 50 cents. Rice combos from $1 up.
Local snacks - absolute favourite: Toron (sp?) at about 30 cents per satay stick. Small/Medium sized banana wrap in popiah skin, deep fried and drip coated with molasses, two pieces per satay stick. Can be found only after 10am and before 4pm at the waterfront on the main street of Sabang.
local brew and easy drink San Miguel Beer (SMB), San Miguel Light (Mig Light), bottle cap priced at 18 and 19 pesos respectively (approximately 60 cents and 65 cents respectively) but mini-mart will sell you at 24 pesos and bars / restaurants tend to go at around 50 to 55 pesos (1.60 to 1.70 per bottle).
Apparently Mig Light is light on calories but still contains the same punch as any other regular beer at 5% alc/vol.
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