How to get a bargain vacation: Pilar, Camotes Edition
January 1, 1970
Here in the Philippines, we have a saying; “The best trips happen when we don’t plan them”. That statement rang true on our most recent family adventure to Pilar, Camotes Island. The fact that this place was nothing compared to its other brother islands (major tourist spots) wasn’t lost on me so I wasn’t expecting much and the goal was to travel cheap since that wasn’t meant to be a vacation. We were only there for business (my husband’s family’s business, that is), and exploring the island was an option we thought about but never really planned on doing. When we eventually got around to do it, it was a vacation well spent (cheaply!).
Here are a few things we did that were pretty cheap and still gave my family a simple but memorable experience.
1. Ride a Ferry boat
From Ormoc City, we took a ferry which only cost Php 150 per person. If you want to roam around the island, you can bring a motorcycle with you on the ferry! (additional cost, of course)
Although there’s a slightly cheaper option which is to take a pump boat(Php 100).On most occasions, I would prefer these types for short distances but this time, we had our son with us so having the space to stand and move around is a must (when he cries, mostly the thing that calms him the most is to be cradled and dance around with). It’s much safer too (Just my personal opinion). We docked in their port which was surprisingly bare but the pathway together with the sea are pretty well kept and clean.
2. Stay with Relatives (FREE Accommodation).
For those with no family or friends in the area, cheap accommodation is still available!
You can ask any foreign person and they’d tell you the same thing; Filipinos are hospitable. And the people in this island are no exemption. And although we had free accommodation because of the relatives, there are still cheap options that make the above observation true. On this island, there’s not a lot of advertised locations that are cheap like pension houses or hostels (Like I mentioned, it’s not the same as its brother islands who are known to be tourist hubs) but there’s a lot of hospitable families. During my brother-in-law’s wedding, my husband and his family stayed in one of these hospitable family’s house for only Php 500 a night and that pricing can accommodate 2 to 3 person. The point was to travel cheap so that alone was a bargain!
Just ask a local in the area for accommodations like these. They’re pretty helpful so that wouldn’t be a problem.
3. Get Paid while on vacation
That first day was pretty uneventful and we didn’t really see any sights (except for a number of kids riding in their ‘bangkas‘ made out of sacks of water bottles tied to an outrigger) since we got there in the late afternoon so most of the remaining day was spent tapping on my laptop while putting my son to sleep on a hammock. I’m an online freelancer so I can bring my work anywhere with me, and coming to an island with data coverage gives me every opportunity to work and enjoy the view at the same time. This is what we call a paid vacation in my line of work. lol
4. Observe Nature (or you can go all out and explore)
But if you’re intention is to just enjoy your time there, you can ignore the concept of getting paid and make the most of your day. The Island is pretty small so you can do a road trip around the whole island (We did this and it only took us less than an hour to rotate the island’s paved roads) and see sights, take pictures, and whatever you can think of. You can even sell those pictures online if you want (just an option to get the most out of your vacation).
We didn’t get the chance to explore their protected lake (time constraint) but I did try to follow the path so I can take a peek but ended up just looking through the trees and bushes lining up the side of the lake but even that gave me the impression that it was a huge body of water. Locals there try not to disturb the area because of stories nearing the supernatural side. But I was told anyone is welcome there.
Aside from the lake, they have the marine park which is a diver’s haven. They also have dive shops there, the one that I inquired about during the duration of my stay was owned by Moabog resort’s very own General Manager, Steve Davies. I plan to avail of his services on my next visit (with my family in tow, of course!)
5. Make Friends
I’ve been to other islands in the Philippines before and this has been a common trait of most of the residents: OPEN AND FRIENDLY. And I can say the same, or even a little bit more in Pilar, Camotes Island.
On our second day, we already made friends with an elderly couple who gave us free access to their private sea-side cottage. They also have a floating cottage they actually rent out to visitors but offered to us for free. The normal rate was Php 500 for the whole day and that includes getting the cottage towed in the middle of the sea, your location of choice (should be a reasonable choice, of course).
Other than having a place to relax and to work comfortably in, we also got into deep conversations with them. They were pretty awesome at giving life advice and were also good listeners.
6. Discover Cheap (Even Free) Food
During our third day, we attended mass. On our way home, a few seafood vendors called out and told us they were selling what locals (and Visayan people) call “saang” or spider shells; huge seashells seasoned in salt water and boiled to perfection (Yes, I’m addicted to them, as you can guess). We bought a bucketload for less than P100. An awesome bargain compared to city prices.
Before lunch, we went back to that cottage we spent our day in the day before so I can work a little bit while enjoying some sea breeze. The elderly lady who owns it and we talked to yesterday came out and asked us if we eat ‘isda sa bato’.
“Yes!” my husband exclaimed and then asked how much was it.
She didn’t respond and instead went back inside the house only to return with a plastic bag on hand with the fishes inside. Again we asked her how much, and she laughed and said “nothing of course!”.
We were surprised but accepted her simple gift which was already too much (allowing us to stay in their cottage for free was more than enough hospitality we expect from anyone). So yeah, we got seafood galore that day. But wait, there’s more! (I’ve always wanted to say that.. haha)
7. Unwind at Awesome And Relaxing Beaches (Plus Good Food!)
On that same day, my husband mentioned about going to that new resort called Moabog that they advertised near the pier. Although the pictures looked great, I was still sceptical since pictures almost always disappoint me (i.e. food ads). But when we got there, it was exactly as shown! Forgive my photos of the place though because it does not do it justice.
Sandy white beaches, clear signs of marine life, well-landscaped gardens, and footpath. The facility is fairly new so the structures are still in their peak form. The entrance fee isn’t cheap (Php 350 per person) when you think of it as entrance fee only, but since it’s consumable with their lunch (they called it day-use menu) package, it’s actually already a bargain especially when you want to experience that real resort luxury vacation vibe. Why? Because other than the access to their facility, the food menu package was delicious! And I don’t say that often (unless it’s my mom asking me about her cooking).
But what dubbed this whole trip with the ‘worth it and will definitely come again‘ feedback is the smile in my baby boy’s face when he had his first swim in the sea with his daddy. And his attempts at swimming in the pool that resulted to squeals of laughter.
Unexpected, but these simple joys make the whole experience definitely worth it.
Ever had that?