If you don't know where you're going, any road'll get you there. - Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
Biliran is actually the first trip where we did almost everything on our own. We felt the difference with traveling to more popular destinations like Boracay & Palawan, where everything is spoonfed.
The locals are as equally friendly and hospitable, but the whole experience leaves you the satisfaction & autonomy to nagivate your way through the island on your own.
And while little is known of this small town in Eastern Visayas, it might just be the right place to get lost and test your travel skills.
Tacloban to Naval
We booked a promo flight from Manila to Tacloban via Cebu Pacific.
Travel Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Within the airport, we rode a jeep that took us to Van-Van's terminal.
We waited around 20-30 minutes for a van bound for Naval. The locals were nice enough to let us have the front seats because they wanted us to have the best view of Tacloban. We were still able to see traces of Typhoon Yolanda's aftermath. We sincerely hope Biliranons and Taclobanons recover completely.
Travel Time: 2.5 hours. Budget: p150/head
Once we got to Naval, we grabbed a quick meal at 'Goldilocks' which was 3-5 minutes away from the van terminal. Don't let the name fool you. It's actually a small carenderia but with decent food at a really affordable price.
Budget: p50-70 per head
We took a public jeep from Naval to Kawayan. I'm not sure if it shone on our faces that we didn't know what we were doing, but the locals made sure we felt taken care of.
Budget: p30/head; Time: 30-45 minutes.
At Kawayan Port, we had to haggle with 2 boatmen who were charging us p4000 for a 2-way trip to Sambawan Island. In the end, we agreed on p1400 for a one-way trip.
We stopped over in Maripipi Island, at a convenience store owned by a chinese businessman, where we bought food and supplies. Buy everything here. There are no stores in Sambawan.
Travel Time: 40 minutes. Budget: p1400 + supplies
We stayed at the Sambawan Dive Camp and Beach Resort. The cottage costs p2500. It may sound costly for something basic but the cottage fits around 6-10 people. It also included 200 liters of water for bathing which was actually enough for 4 people. Water runs through modern faucets, btw. They have meters to measure your water consumption and it's important to keep in mind that electricity runs from around 5pm to 4am only.
We took a quick nap to regain some of the energy we lost from all the traveling and when we woke up at around 3pm, we finally had the chance to enjoy the island.
Besides the stewards and one small local group, we were the only ones who stayed overnight. We felt like we had the whole island to ourselves and it was so awesome.
The caretaker, Kuya Yoyoy, gave us a lot of tips. He said if we were only able to contact them ahead of time, they could have prepared our meals with their fresh catch of the day.
The next morning, we left Sambawan Island at around 9am. They offered their own boat for just p700 (one way trip for (2) to Kawayan Port).
Cottage - 2500 php
Entrance - 50 php/head
Service boat - 700 php
One thing we learned from Sambawan Island is that, it's really about going back to the basics and if tranquility is what you've been searching for, then all you need is just to be here.
Agta Beach Resort
From Kawayan Port, we hired a Habal-Habal to take us to Agta Beach Resort. We were charged p150 for the ride, only to find out from another driver that it should've cost us p30 per head.
Anyway, when we got to Agta, we had to spend the whole day inside our room because it was raining.
We still appreciate the resort, though. It was like a breather for us. We were greeted by our first names & our needs were always attended to. We had access to comfortable beds, cable tv, hot shower & wifi. The food was also affordable and was served in large portions.
I only wish we could have experienced Agta without the fog and the rain. Witnessing the sunset there would have been nice too.
Travel Time: 20 minutes
Habal-habal - 75 php/head
Accommodation - 600 php/head
Kawayan back to Naval
Because of this trip, I grew fond of habal-habals. I think it's the best way to get around a certain place.
We got to Naval very early so we had a lot of time to replenish our supplies. But because there is only 1 trip per day to Higatangan, we had to make sure we had seats. We got inside the boat at around 9am and it left past 11am. Be prepared to join a lot of people and goods.
Travel Time: 45 minutes
Habal-habal - 30 php/head
The waves were very rough and being the only tourists in the boat, the locals sitting around us kept checking if we were okay, telling us not to be scared. It was actually cute.
ProTip: If going during summer season, sit on the right side of the boat. Going back, sit on the left side. Unless you want to get wet, avoid the other sides of the boat.
We were worried about the weather. Back in Naval, the skies were covered with thick gloomy clouds signaling heavy rain. Surprisingly when we got there, the sky was clear.
We took a lot of pictures already in fear that the weather can change any second.
We stayed in Higatangan Island Resort. It's a 5-minute walk from the sand bar. Ate Lyan, was a very good host. She made us feel very at home.
She also has a cute kid. He and his playmates reminded us of our time when kids played all day outside instead of in front of computers.
Life in Higatangan is very simple. Electricity is only available from 6pm to 10pm. There is also scarcity in water. Ate Lyan and her husband will help you get water from the well if you need it.
The only downside about this resort is the bathroom. They should really replace the rusty knobs and faucets. But aside from that, everything was perfect.
Travel Time: 45 minutes
Boat - 50 php/head
Room - 450 php/head
We woke up early the next day for the only trip going back to Naval at 8 AM. Be careful, they really leave passengers behind once the boat if full. We rode the same van to Tacloban.
Our total budget per head for 2 persons, excluding food:
What We Should Have Done
When we were in Sambawan, Aia got to talk to the locals. They shared a lot of stories with us especially about Typhoon Yolanda and how it has affected them. We in turn, shared with them our thoughts about Biliran and how the trip was a bit of a challenge for us, but in a good way.
This was when they suggested some things we could have done to make our trip even more worthwhile (less tiring) and cheaper.
- Day 1: Higatangan Island. Arrive in Tacloban before 7am, eat breakfast. Go straight to Van-Van's terminal and travel fast to Naval to catch the 11am boat straight to Higatangan. There is only 1 trip to Higatangan everyday, except Sundays.
- Van: 150 php/head
- Boat: 50 php/head
- Accommodation: 450 php/head
- Day 2: Sambawan Island. Catch the early morning (around 8am) boat from Higatangan to Naval. From Naval, ride a boat going to Maripipi. From Maripipi, ride a habal-habal to Ol-og. From Ol-og port, ask Sambawan's service boat to fetch you. It is way cheaper than the pakyaw boat we rode from Kawayan port.
- Higatangan to Naval: 40 php/head
- Naval to Maripipi via Ma. Lourdes Bega Express: 50 php/head
- Maripipi to Ol-og: around 30-40php, same as other habal-habals
- Sambawan service boat: 350 php/head
- Accommodation: 1250 php/head
- Day 3: Agta Beach Resort. Ride Sambawan's service boat back to Kawayan Port. Take a habal-habal to Agta Beach Resort.
- Sambawan service boat: 350 php/head
- Habal-habal to Agta: 30 php/head
- Accommodation: 600 php/head
- Day 4: Homebound. Ride a habal-habal or a jeep from Agta to Naval. Ride a van to Tacloban Airport.
- Habal-habal: 30 php/head
- Van: 150 php/head
Our would've been total expense, without food: 3540 php
There's not much difference, but it would have been less tiring if we did it in this order.
Another thing that we should have done was to travel with friends. Biliran will be extra awesome if you have buddies to share the experience and expenses with.
We may have all these shouldabeens and couldabeens but we actually felt no regret choosing Biliran. We were doubtful before the trip mainly because it wasn't a popular destination and we didn't know what to expect. We were both a bit scared, because we're just two yuppies going to an island that we've barely read about online. We were most definitely clueless.
But all that were quickly replaced with awe and appreciation of the island. It was beautiful. It's one of those places where you just want to freeze time and breathe the air like you never did. Biliran has its own charm that will make you want to come back.
'Til next time, Biliran. We promise to bring friends!