Donsol: Getting there and away

Donsol, Sorsogon about 540 kilometers from Manila. Like most provinces in the Bicol region, it can be reached by plane (via Legaspi) or by bus.

Welcome to Bicol

By Plane:
Philippine Airlines flies daily to Legaspi. PR277 from Manila departs at 7:00 am, arriving in Legaspi at 8:05 am. The flight back to Manila, PR278 leaves Legaspi at 8:45 am, arriving at 9:50 am.

Cebu Pacific has two flights to Legaspi. Flight 5J325 (M/W/F) departs Manila at 7:10 am, and arrives in Legaspi at 8:05 am. The flight back, 5J326 (M/W/F) leaves Legaspi at 8:35 am and gets to Manila by 9:30 am. Starting April 3, 2008, these two flights will be departing at a later time and will be operating daily (source: Cebu Pacific website). 5J325 will be flying daily, departing Manila at 8:25 am arriving 9:20 am. Likewise, 5J326 will also commence its daily flights, departing Legaspi at 9:50 am and arriving in Manila at 10:45 am.

Flight 5J327 flies daily leaving Manila at 12:45 am, arriving in Legaspi at 1:40 pm. The flight back, 5J328 leaves at 2:10 pm, arriving in Manila at 3:05 pm.

At the airport, you will be approached by people hawking private transfers to your resort. A van usually costs Php1,500 from Legaspi to Donsol. If you’re a big group, this is a good alternative. If you want to rough it, turn down the people offering you a van, and head out of the airport. There are always tricycles milling around. Ask the tricycle driver to take you to the transport terminal. The fare is Php50 since it’s a special trip.

At the terminal, look for the van headed for Donsol (it’s clearly marked, don’t worry). The van wouldn’t leave until it’s full. If you’re one of the first there, you can tell the barker to reserve your seat while you get a bite to eat or to buy snacks to munch on during the ride. The van ride to Donsol is about an hour and a half from Legaspi, through a very long and very winding road going up and down the mountains. Don’t worry, the road is smoothly paved. The van fare is Php60, and will be collected by before you leave the terminal.

When you reach the Donsol town proper, you can ask the van driver to drop you off at your resort for an additional fee. A fair amount would be Php20.

To get to the airport from Donsol, ride the van from the Donsol town proper. The same cost applies, but there’s a longer wait for passengers headed for Legaspi. The route back to the Legaspi terminal passes through the airport, so if you’ve no plans of sight seeing in Legaspi, just ask your driver to drop you off at the airport.

By Bus:
Several bus companies go to Legaspi and Sorsogon from Cubao or Pasay. Travel time from Manila to Legaspi is about 10 hours, and costs approximately Php650 one way. Philtranco has buses plying the Manila – Bicol route daily, with busses that go all the way to Donsol. Head on to Philtranco’s website for their schedule.

Getting out of Donsol

From Donsol, you can go further south to Sorsogon or take the ferry going to Masbate from Pilar. If you’re headed for Cebu, you can try the Pilar – Masbate – Cebu route. From Donsol, make your way to the town of Pilar. There are daily boats going to Masbate leaving at 5:00 am, 8:00 am, 12:00 noon and 4:00 pm. Fare costs Php360 one-way. From Masbate, vessel M/V Asia Indonesia goes to Cebu every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 6:00 pm. There are several classes in the boat: 2nd class (Php 480), Tourist Class (Php 883), Cabin (Php 1,390) and Presidential Suite (Php 1,719). All fares are per person and excludes taxes (about Php45).

If I remember correctly, travel time from Donsol to Pilar is 30 minutes, Pilar to Masbate is 2 hours and Masbate to Cebu is 10 hours.

Happy tripping!

Donsol Accommodation

Here’s a list of your other accommodation options when you go to Donsol for the whale shark interaction. These are listed on the official Donsol tourism brochure.

Amor Beach Resort
Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon
E-mail: rasyl_r_amor@yahoo.com / info_amorbeachresort@yahoo.com
Contact No. +63 9095181150
Contact: Razyl Amor

Vitton Beach Resort
Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon
E-mail: vittonbeachresort@yahoo.com
Contact No. +63 9279126313 / +63 9216904399
Contact: Nora Morales
(Nina’s note: Vitton is located right beside the tourist center. Very convenient since you don’t have to wake up too early for the Butanding watch, and the boats would dock right at the resort’s beach afterwards. I’ve been inside the resort and it looks really nice.)

Woodland Beach Resort
Pangpang, Donsol, Sorsogon
Contact No. 0920 863 0191 (+63 920 863 0191 for international callers)
Contact: Maricho Bigayan

Apuyan Residential Inn
Tres Maria, Donsol, Sorsogon

Inday Tourist Inn & Lodge
Poso, Donsol, Sorsogon

Santiago Tourist Inn
Poso, Donsol, Sorsogon

Hernandez Guest & Pension House
Poso, Donsol, Sorsogon

For Department of Tourism accredited homestays, please get in touch with Ms. Irma Jimenez (mobile: +63 906 7625955) of the Donsol Inn-Keepers Association (DIKA).

Review: Amor Farm Beach Resort

Accommodation plays a role in your overall trip experience. Whether you’re staying at your hotel/hostel/guesthouse/b&b/resort the whole day or just sleeping there, it would still impact how your general feeling about the place. I guess one of the reasons why I enjoyed my Donsol trip so much was because of the overall feel and the lovely people at the Amor Farm Beach Resort.

New airconditioned rooms

 
One of Donsol’s first resort, Amor Farm Beach Resort is listed as Lonely Planet as its second choice. LP describes Amor as: “right next to the vistors centre, this is a peaceful place, albeit not quite as well kept as Woodland.” They’re right about it being a peaceful place, but it seems the tourist center has moved, because it’s now a 5-minute walk from Amor.

Yay for clean toilets!
Yay for clean bathrooms! (I had my share of memorable toilets, and this is one of the rare toilets I can remember in a very positive light)

 

The resort is very rustic, very natural and very Filipino. The cottages have thatched roof, the rooms are spotless and the staff are very friendly. The resort is filled with greens, save for the basketball court (which used to be a place to dry their palay). Amor also has a restaurant serving good Filipino and western dishes at reasonable prices.

Reading materials
Left your book at home? Amor has some reading materials you can borrow.

 
Amor’s restaurant also serves as the resort’s common area. There is a TV (which seemed to be always tuned to ABS-CBN — kapamilya sila!), a a component (for videoke, perhaps?), a table laden with books and magazines from around the world (Harry Potter in French, anyone?). If you’re traveling alone and looking to chat up with other travelers, just hang out at the restaurant and you’ll surely find someone to talk to.

Ate Agnes
The ever wonderful Agnes who welcomed us with open arms *drama* It’s really the people at Amor that made this stay so enjoyable.

 
Being listed in the Lonely Planet Philippines meant that most travels head to Amor Beach Resort when traveling in Donsol. If you’re going during the peak season (December – May for Donsol), better book a room beforehand because they fill up very quickly. When we were there, a room would only be unoccupied for less than an hour (just enough time for the housekeeping crew to do their job) before a new guest would settle in. Amor is the accomodation of choice for plenty of travelers who has gone butanding watching in Donsol. It’s also my choice.

Inside Amor Farm Beach Resort
I saw a frog there one evening *cringe*

 
Amor Farm Beach Resort
Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon
Mobile: +63 9095181150
E-mail: rasyl_r_amor@yahoo.com / info_amorbeachresort@yahoo.com

Room rates (as of December 2009)
AC Room with hot & cold shower – Php 1,800
AC Room (standard) – Php 1,700
Fan Room – Php 1,000 / 1,300
Fan Room with hot & cold shower – Php 1,400
ALL rooms are with ensuite bathroom and veranda overlooking the beach.

Going on the Butanding watch

This is the third part of a series of posts about my weekend trip to Donsol, Sorsogon for the Whaleshark experience. Previous posts in this series includes the budget for this Donsol trip (download Excel file here), and my musings about being back in Bicol after almost 6 years.

The Tourist Center is the starting point of the whale shark interaction experience. You are required to register and pay the interaction fee (Php100 for residents, Php300 for foreigners). This is also where you hire a boat, a crew and the Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO). Each boat is only allowed to carry 7 passengers (excluding the crew), and costs Php3,500 for the whole caboodle. If there are only two of you, the Php3,500 fee can be a huge amount, even if you split it. However, you can easily find and form a group of seven, since there’s a number of travelers traveling alone in these parts.

Color coded
I didn’t have an underwater camera so I will try to distract you with random photos like this.

 
Owen and I were supposed to join the other guests from our resort. Due to a mix up, there were only one spot left in their group. Luckily, another group was also missing one passenger, so we decided to split and join the groups.

Before heading out to sea, everyone is required to watch the video briefing. Basically, it tells you about the whale shark and the proper way of behaving during the interaction. Once you finish (or when your boat is ready), you board the boat to start looking for these gentle giants.

Fins
Getting ready to dive

 
The best time for butanding watching they say is between December to May, where there is less rain and more sunny days. It was uncharacteristically rainy that week in the Bicol region. Well, it rains in Bicol throughout the year, but we had some unusually hard rainfall that time. The skies were clearing up, but it was still overcast and drizzles every hour or so. Sunshine is important for whale shark watching; visibility is greatly reduced if the sun isn’t out.

The interaction guidelines says that when one boat spots a whale shark, the other boats can’t go near and stalk the same whale shark. It also outlines that there can only be a certain number of people in the water at the same time. However, due to the weather and the poor visibility, the boats crowded around the same area, following the same butanding.

Too many people in the sea
Too many people swimming

 
Christine, who I saw at the Manila domestic airport and who has gone Butanding watching before, said that the whale shark would suddenly pop out of nowhere. Having a slight fear of drowning, I find this a bit disturbing. When we were in the water though, BIO Jun took my hand and swam with me to see the Butanding. He was pointing at something in the water and I was really straining to see what he was pointing at. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I see a grey shape dotted with spots. It’s a butanding!

Oh hai there
This is my only photo of the butanding. Pfft. But there’s always next time, right? ;)

 
It’s as if the sun suddenly came out from behind the clouds to give us additional meters of visibility. That and the butanding was swimming close to the surface. It was huge! It really was a sight to behold. Though I didn’t have an underwater camera with me (because I am an idiot), that’s one picture that I will always remember.

We came back to the boat triumphant and exhilarated. We’ve already seen one, and we’re looking forward to see more! Our group saw a couple more after that, so by 11am, we were ready to head back to land.

At home in Donsol

This is the second part of a series of posts about my recent weekend trip to Donsol, Sorsogon for the Whaleshark experience. Budget for this Donsol trip is available for download.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to Donsol. The last time we went home to my parent’s hometown, my dad decided to have a road trip around Bicol and see various towns. One of them was Donsol.

I remember that long drive from Bulusan to Donsol. It’s weird having to pass through Legaspi first before heading back to Sorsogon. It was a long and winding road up and down the mountains. Like most drives in the Bicol region, this is really nothing new. I remember the roads being smooth in some areas, and unpaved in some. Back in 2002, they were just starting to promote the Butanding experience.

Gayon Bicol
Beautiful Bicol

 
Going back in 2008, I was able to recognize some of the landmarks we saw during our previous trip. Unlike before when the roads weren’t totally paved yet, the road to Donsol was smooth concrete, stopping just past the Tourist Centre. And unlike before when we literally just stopped to look at the sea, this time I’m going out to sea.

Another landmark I recognized was the resort we went to before. I never did remember the name, but I remembered how it looked like. It turns out that Amor Farm Beach Resort was the same resort we went to five years ago. The paper mache butanding was gone, and so was the purple potted sili plant, but the basketball court was still there. Right then and there, I felt at home. This is Bicol, after all.

Sili
Welcome to red hot Bicol. There was this guy who ordered a bowl of pancit and specifically asked the girl behind the counter to put in 5 pieces of sili. I can’t even imagine eating one, let alone 5!

 
We arrived late in the afternoon, just in time to sign up for a Firefly tour. The firefly tour is basically just a boat ride up the river to gawk at the fireflies. One boat can hold up to 5 passengers (excluding the boatmen), and costs Php1,100 per boat (depending on the resort). Agnes, our contact person, told us that there are three guests who are joining the tour. Would we like to join them to complete the 5? Owen and I jumped on this opportunity, since it can get pretty expensive if it was just the two of us.

I wasn’t really expecting much from the tour. I was looking forward more to the opportunity to relax, away from the noise and the lights of the city. We went out just after sundown and it was pitch black when we got to the river. As we puttered up the river, one or two fireflies whizzed past out heads. I was thinking there would just be fireflies flying around us, and that would be it. I never expected that there would be hundreds of them congregated in the trees around the river.

Green
This is what’s missing in Australia. Rice paddies and coconut trees. There were green areas in Australia, but their green is dull, unlike this vibrant green the Philippines had.

 
It was an amazing sight. The tree looked like it was covered in hundreds of twinkling fairy lights. And it wasn’t just one tree, there were several. After several minutes staring in awe at this spectacular display, we headed back to Amor, just in time for dinner.

We had dinner with Tanja, a German on her last leg of her 5 month South East Asian trip. We talked about places we’ve been to and places we want to go to. It was great to be talking to people who have the same passion for traveling as I do. We adjourned at 11pm, because the staff were closing the restaurant. Besides, we have an early morning the following day.