Sohoton

In my last post, I wrote about our short weekend trip to Siargao and how we did nearly nothing there. This is the “nearly” part.

 

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Sohoton Cove

is 2-3 hours away by outrigger boat from the Cloud 9 surfing enclave of Siargao. At first we weren’t sure if our trip there would push through — among our family, only my sister and I were interested in going, and the price the resort quoted for the boat (PHP 5,000 or USD 105) was a bit too steep to be shared between just us two. However, resort staff helped us find one other person to share the boat with, and we ended up paying just PHP 1,500 each, so…yay!

Tips from a local and a fellow traveler:

LOCAL: According to Gemma, my college friend who lives in Surigao, the going rates for boats to Sohoton from Siargao are: PHP 5,000 – PHP 6,000 for boats that can accommodate 10-15 persons / PHP 4,000 for boats good for 5-10 pax / PHP 3,000 – 3,500 for boats good for 1-4 people. (Keep in mind it would probably take longer for smaller boats to reach Sohoton.)

FELLOW TRAVELER: Denise Lim — you may remember her from when she was featured here in SGMT — also says boats good for 10 people are usually priced at around PHP 5,000. She suggests another option: a speedboat that departs from Romantic Beach can also accommodate 10 people. It’s a bit pricier at PHP 6,000 but it only takes around 1 hour to reach Sohoton. (As someone who has been on the 3-hour per way boat ride on a non-speedboat, I would say the extra PHP 1,000 is worth it.)

Cloud 9 Siargao to Bucas Grande

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Why go to Sohoton?

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It’s different. It’s not the usual white-sand-palm-trees tropical island experience (though you can drop by any number of white sand beaches on your way). Take a look at this Google Earth view of Sohoton Cove:
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Map_Sohoton_Google Earth view

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It’s a veritable maze of islets — domes of dense tree-filled rocks seemingly dropped out of nowhere into blue-green waters so clear, they sometimes look shallow because you can see right to the bottom. Nestled in this network of green: subterranean waterways, caves full of crystals and the world’s smallest bats, and a lagoon home to numbers of stingless jellyfish. Otherworldly is how previous visitors describe the wall-to-wall green and the quiet that permeates the place. The Spaniard sharing our boat wouldn’t stop sputtering about how it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen. My sister said it’s possible the El Nido karst formations will underwhelm me now that I’ve seen Sohoton. Afraid of setting expectations that might prove too steep later on, I will just say: Sohoton is definitely worth a visit.

Tip: If you want to skip the 3-hour boat ride from Siargao, you can stay nearer to Sohoton Cove, such as at Club Tara Island Resort (though it’s worth weighing its proximity vs. the better quality of stay you might get elsewhere). You can search for other hotels in Surigao del Norte HERE.

Besides, it’s fun! Take a look at these Sohoton tour highlights to see what we did there:
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The tour

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First of all, I have to give props to the local government unit in charge of the Sohoton area. They had a smooth system in place, with a neatly organized staging post and helpful, alert staff. The guides and boatmen took good care of us — making sure we knew exactly what to do, promptly fitting us with life jackets and hard hats whenever necessary, even offering to take photos without being prompted (so that won’t be a problem for solo travelers, even shy ones).

The actual Sohoton tour is P500 per person — that’s outside of what you pay for the boat to take you from Siargao or Socorro to Sohoton itself — and it includes a bunch of adventures.

  • Two boat rides — one in a motorized outrigger boat and another one in a smaller paddle boat
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  • A partially submerged cave where, during or near high tide, you have to dive underwater a bit to get to the entrance. The sunlight seeping into the cave through the tiny opening makes the water inside the cave [pseudo]luminescent. Slap the water and the ripples will glow in the dark.
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  • Another cave with crystals and bats that the guide told us were the smallest in the world. Even adult size, they were cute and not at all scary. To get out of the cave, you have to climb up the rocks (and a few stalagmites, sorry) to get to a small opening, then dive from a wooden platform to the water. The diving platform isn’t very high but jumping off it was still fun! (See us diving in the video.)
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  • The jellyfish lagoon. Peak season for the jellyfish is April and May, but we still managed to see a good number of them. Swimming with them is harmless to people — they don’t sting — but the jellyfish themselves are sensitive to sunblock so the practice is now forbidden. (Even if the boatmen say it’s okay to dive into the water at the jellyfish lagoon, please don’t do it.)

Photos don’t really do Sohoton justice — or mine don’t anyway — because the 360° surroundings is such a huge component of the experience but nonetheless, here are a few images to hopefully whet your appetite.

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Approaching the entrance to the cove
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The mostly dome-shaped islets that form the Sohoton network:
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Putting yourself out there

This is something I wrote last year for a fellow blogger — sharing it now to hopefully encourage anyone who wants to write but is too wracked with self-doubt to start.

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Gaya_LetterSizeWhenever people tell me that they want to try blogging but they’re not sure if they can do it, I always share this bit of wisdom from a very unlikely source: Ryzza Mae Dizon. It’s something she said in passing when someone complimented her dancing, and I don’t think she even remembers saying it now. But it has stuck to my mind ever since I heard her say it and I’ve always found it inspiring.

She said: “Hindi ako magaling. Makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko.” (I’m not good, I’m just gutsy.)

What I’ve learned about life is that talent will only ever get you so far. Conversely, a lack of talent will only hold you back for as long as you let it. What really counts is your attitude — your willingness to put yourself out there and work for what you want, even if you’re not sure what people are going to think.

In my blogging experience (such as it is!) “attitude” has required three things: courage, principles, and accepting who I am.

Courage. Blogging takes bravery! Many of my friends and readers have been to way more places than I have, and I know it’s presumptuous of me to ask them to read a travel blog by a person less-traveled than they are but…makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko! 😀 What have I got to lose, right? Also, I realized early on that I am not as good a writer as others — as much as I want to, I can’t do the sort of emo writing that seems to be popular with the artsy crowd. I can only do my style of writing and I have to be content with that. So, even if you think no one cares what you have to say, or you don’t write well enough, or, for travel blogs, even if you haven’t been to that many places, if you want to start your own blog then do it. Stop wondering what your friends are going to think and just do it. Anyway, it’s not like you’re holding people at gunpoint and forcing them to read your blog.

Speaking of which, it’s also important not to get discouraged if only a few people read your blog at first. I know it can be disheartening to put so much of your heart and soul and self into a post and have it be read by only a handful of people but…it happens. A lot. Unless you have the benefit of a popular last name, or you’ve got tons of friends (or people wanting to curry favor), or, I don’t know, you work the circuit really well, you aren’t going to automatically shoot to the top of the blogger Billboards. So forget all that for a bit and just write. Write and write and write, and eventually your efforts will start to pay off. (And in the meantime, if it helps your self-esteem, think of yourself as a starving artist. 🙂 You’re brilliant — the world just doesn’t know it yet.)


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Principles
. A lot of people have been very successful at making money out of their blogs and so many of us go into blogging hoping that we will also be able to earn from it. Certainly, that’s one of my goals (though honestly I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet). But I think it’s also important to set standards for yourself.

I remember searching for printers in Cebu, and I came across a website for “Cebu Printing Services” claiming to be “Cebu’s No. 1 Printing Company” — only there were no printing services being offered, just printing-related blog posts with embedded hyperlinks to sites selling, um, PDE5 inhibitors (look it up). I don’t want to judge, and some people might argue that those links don’t hurt anyone, but — speaking for myself — that’s just not something I’m willing to do. As a blogger, you have to decide for yourself where you want to draw the line. In my case, I think it’s important that people who read my blog are able to trust me, so I decided very early on that I won’t allow misleading links, or write good reviews for bad services. And while I try to make my posts interesting, inspiring, and/or helpful to others, it’s a matter of self-respect that I don’t write, for the sake of going viral, what this article calls “aspirational porn.” I tell people they can make their travel dreams come true, but I also make sure to tell them about the work (and sometimes luck) that goes into it. The last thing I want to do is to raise people’s expectations only to let them down, or “inspire” them to be irresponsible and selfish.

Identity. Figure out who you are and work with that. Me, I’ll never have the coolness factor of other bloggers. I’m not someone who quit work to travel all around the world. I’m not someone who has managed to make a living out of traveling. I don’t look good in a bikini, can’t even do a decent jump shot…basically, I don’t think people will want to be me. I’m just an ordinary person, so I’m sticking with that, hoping that my blog will somehow resonate with people who also feel ordinary and encourage them to do not-so-ordinary things. I don’t know if I’ve been able to accomplish that, but sometimes people tell me that my blog inspires them to travel, and that makes me very happy.

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Putting yourself out there in blogging
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


Where to stay in Bangkok: Floral Shire

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If your Bangkok flight arrives late or leaves early, and you just want a cheap, decent place to stay in that’s near Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you could do worse than Floral Shire.

That’s what we did on our last visit to Bangkok. We were booked at On8 Sukhumvit for the bulk of our stay, but our flight arrived close to midnight and there was no way we were going to catch the last train to the city. It also didn’t make sense — to a cheapskate like me, anyway — to spend for a cab and pay for a night at On8 when we were going to arrive at the hotel past midnight. So I looked for a hotel near the airport.
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11 Days in Europe: Paris, Venice and Rome Sample Itinerary (and Insider Tips)

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SGMT_Venice

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A few days ago, I reviewed an 11-day 14-city European tour and concluded that it’s not a tour I would personally take or recommend. I can understand the appeal of the tour — the number of cities visited, the convenience of having someone else arrange everything — but it was just too rushed and too inflexible for my taste. Visiting 14 cities for $850 sounds like a great deal but I think, in this case, the proverbial “less is more” applies — you can actually get greater value for money if you take the time to really enjoy each of your destinations.

If it was my first time in Europe, and I had 11 days to spend, here’s what I would do instead.
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Qatar Airways flights up to 50% off!

Qatar Airways — which was awarded 2015 Airline of the Year by Skytrax — is currently celebrating the Qatar Travel Festival and they’re offering really low fares to and from various destinations around the world.

  • Manila to Paris – 780 USD (return)
  • London to Bangkok – 460 GBP (return)
  • Hong Kong to Amsterdam – 1938 HKD (one way — 11,834 PHP!)
  • And more

If you have a destination and travel dates in mind, you can click here to search and book.

If you want to explore your options, you can click on this:


You’ll most likely be taken to the UK page — if you are, just scroll down a bit, click on the “View more fares” link, and then select your country of departure from the drop down list on the left side of the page.

Sample fares from the Philippines

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Manila to Paris – 780 USD (return)

Manila to Istanbul – 691 USD (return)

And other deals to Doha, Milan, Cairo, Amman, Frankfurt, Zurich, Copenhagen, Barcelona, and Sao Paulo:
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#Goals: Bernina Express

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Have you ever accidentally come across something, felt sudden chills running through your body, and thought, “Oh my gosh, I want this”?

Bernina Express in Winter_by Kabelleger_David Gubler_Public domain_via Wikimedia Commons

The Bernina Express in winter. Photo by Kabelleger / David Gubler (public domain).

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I was just looking up how to get to Venice from Paris in Seat61 and it mentioned the Bernina Express, so I went to that page, and then just: chills.

I don’t know why — I’ve never actually even dreamed of going to Switzerland before. But I make a lot of my travel decisions this way: based on whether or not the thought of going to a place gives me chills. (Wait, is the proper term chills or thrills?) And it’s not just because I’ve never seen snow yet, I don’t think.

So: #goals.

How do you decide where to go?

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Where to stay in Bangkok: On8 Sukhumvit

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The first time I went to Bangkok, way back 2005, my family and I stayed at First House Hotel. We stayed in adjoining twin rooms so we had more than enough space, and we loved their buffet breakfast. First House was also just across the road from Pantip Plaza — we didn’t buy any electronics, but we did eat at their food court, and one time the dish I ordered was so spicy, I downed my entire glass of Coke after just one bite. My proudest moment of that vacation was when, on our way back to the hotel after a day of sightseeing, the taxi driver had difficulty ascertaining where, exactly, First House Hotel was, and I confidently said, “Petchaburi, soi sip-gao.” #IKnowThai 😀

My second visit to Bangkok was in 2008; I was with a friend and we thought we’d try a hostel in Khaosan Road, for the experience. The Marco Polo — that was where we stayed. The name sounded reputable enough but, well, we wanted an experience and we got it. Our room was directly above a nightclub and the wooden walls shook all night (like, literally) from the noise. The walls were graffitied with stuff like “Free Tibet” (really made a difference to the well-being of Tibet, I’m sure), the sheets didn’t feel too clean (inadequate lighting made proper investigation impossible), and we woke up the next morning quite itchy (rendering proper investigation unnecessary). Thank God we were only booked there for one night.

Third time’s the charm

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My third and latest visit was in 2012, again with my family. This time we stayed at On8 Sukhumvit, a boutique hotel that we chose primarily for its proximity to a BTS (Skytrain) station, and we were quite happy with it. Their rooms were nice, if a bit small, and had proper amenities.
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