A view from the inside: a Ctrip holiday to Boracay

by Amber Mizerak
Posted: February 22nd, 2012 | Updated: February 23rd, 2012 | Comments
Boracay ferry You've seen them with their brightly colored hats, sporting fanny packs (or bum bags). You've heard them and their loud megaphones and you've probably been pushed out of the way by them at some point, too. Yes, we're talking about the ubiquitous Chinese tour groups that are taking the world by storm. But what's it really like being part of one of these groups? And would you ever consider joining one? Last weekend I took a last minute three day, two night trip to Boracay [link in Chinese; call (86 21) 3406 4880 ext. 13421 to book in English] in the Philippines through Ctrip for roughly RMB 3,000 (cheaper if you don't need a visa). The only catch was that it was with a tour group, and I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical.  I wasn't sure what to expect of this tour. I like to think of myself as a pretty rugged traveler. I've slept with bedbugs; survived large, intoxicated Nigerian men trying to bang down my door in Chungking Mansions and almost died in India (a few times), so I decided to gamble my life away again on this Ctrip Chinese tour. More after the jump... A flight from Shanghai to Boracay Kalibo Airport only takes three-and-a-half hours followed by a two hour bus to Caticlan and a quick ferry ride and you're on the tropical white sandy beach paradise of Boracay Island. We emerged from the crowded airport to find palm trees and people chilling in shorts (I still haven't mastered the successful transition from a cold place, dressed in a winter jacket and scarf, to landing in a tropical island where you're immediately overheating). Station 3 White Beach Luckily, our Ctrip guide, Shaina, picked the two laowai out of the mostly Chinese crowd and directed us onto the air-conditioned bus. Surprisingly there were no megaphones, hats or matching t-shirts in sight. Most of our tour introduction was in Chinese, but Shaina took the time to make sure we understood the basics. For the next two hours we drifted in and out of sleep as we passed poor but idyllic local villages where children were running around playing. My favorite memory of the ride was glancing out the window to catch a lone barefoot boy in front of his straw beach hut, flying his brown towel behind him like a cape and staring into the horizon. I would soon experience how friendly and welcoming the Filipino people were in person. Once the bus reached Caticlan, we were ferried to Boracay Island in a matter of minutes and delivered to our beachfront hotel, the Crown Regency, making it easy to drop our stuff off and sleep away the morning beside some of the bluest water and whitest sand I've ever seen. Boracay Beaches

Included activities

Two activities were included in our tour to Boracay: a boat ride along the west side of the island and a group lunch. But remember, it's your vacation and you can opt out of any activity if you so choose. Lunch consisted of a Chinese-style Filipino meal and could have been more authentic, but the boat ride made up for anything the meal was lacking. We hopped aboard by clambering up the wooden beams used for balancing the boat, and took our seats on the fishnet lining with our feet dangling over the sides. The water was so clear that we had to ask the the driver to stop the boat so we could jump in for a swim, and the Chinese family we were with soon followed. A 7am wake up call is also part of the tour; we learned that the hard way after a late night listening to reggae music drinking strong Filipino beer on the beach at Pat's Creek Bar. We (strongly) recommend you (politely) inform your hotel if you would prefer to opt out of this part of the tour.

Optional activities

Boracay is a resort island and there are a plethora of activities to choose from. Your Ctrip guide can help organize these activities, but given that English is widely spoken in the Philippines, and is especially prevalent in Boracay, it's easy to plan your own agenda, too. The island is renowned as one of the best kite surfing spots in the world. So, if you've ever wanted to learn, this is the place. It's also a great place to scuba dive, Zorb (roll down a hill in a giant clear plastic ball), island hop or tour the island via ATV,  bicycle or moped. One view that can't be missed is from Mt. Luho, the highest point on the island. If I were you, I'd do this first to get a sense of how small the island really is and how easy it is to explore. Other great places to see are Puka Beach, the Bat Cave and the little villages full of everyday people. Otherwise,  just read a book on the beach with a fruit-infused cocktail or stop one of the passing masseuses to give you an hour long massage on the beach; do whatever you want, it's your vacation! Bulabog Beach_kiteboarding in Boracay After the boat ride, we didn't see our tour group until the journey back to the airport. For us, getting home wasn't super easy due to a technical difficulty at the airport. Kalibo Airport is a very small, laid-back airport and in case of any delays you can find food and beer 6 m (20 ft) away. On a good day you can be back in Shanghai by Monday night at 10:30pm. I would recommend Boracay for a weekend getaway, but stay longer if you can. And even though I'm not a tour group kind of traveler, I have to admit the Ctrip Chinese tour to Boracay was enjoyable. The organized tour made the logistics much easier for such a short holiday. Filipino people are incredibly friendly and modest, and I found it interesting to visit a new country with Chinese people given that I now call China home. For those of you willing to take a gamble on joining a Chinese tour group, visit the Ctrip website and snag yourself a great deal to Boracay or any other great destination in southeast Asia or beyond. Call (86 21) 3406 4880 ext. 13421 to book in English.

Happy adventuring!

Bars in Boracay
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