If the Philippines isn’t on your list of places to dive, it should be! We went on an amazing trip to Moalboal, Malapascua, and were suppose to go to Coron before the world closed in March. We were a small group of 6 people, all experienced divers, though the type of diving that we did is suitable for all levels. We flew from Heathrow airport, through Singapore and landed in Cebu; it was a long flight, but it wasn’t full, so we were lucky in that regard! From the Cebu airport, we were picked up by Kasai Village and Spa Resort, where we stayed for 5 nights.
SORRY BUT THIS SHIP HAS SAILED BUT SEE WHAT WE DID!
The drive took about 5 hours, but our driver made sure to stop for food, toilet breaks, and some lookout points as well! When we drove in, the resort had strung out a welcome banner for us, which was a really nice and personal touch. From the get-go, the staff made us feel welcome and made sure that we were happy and comfortable. They brought our bags to our rooms, and then we were able to explore the resort. They had a pool table and a pool that we could use, as well as a net for volleyball and sun loungers. We were all very careful not to get sunburnt! We did not dive the first day as we arrived in the afternoon, but we did have a wonderful meal at the restaurant, where they had a table reserved for us. For the rest of the days they gave us family-style meals, with dishes allowing for certain food restriction and allergies that we had in the group. It was all delicious, and the staff made sure that we were very well taken care of – they even greeted us with coffee and tea instantly every morning!
As expected, the weather was dry and warm, and the water was over 25°C; March is considered dry season in the Philippines. We did our first day of diving the following day (we had a 10 dive package, with the option of adding on extra dives, which we did some days!) – Moalboal is known for its macro life and beautiful sea walls. The guides at the resort were amazing, and we had both of them with us all week, so we were able to build a relationship with them. Water and snacks were brought on the boat for between dives, and the only disadvantage was that there was no toilet on board. However, this was only because their usual boat was out of commission during our time there.
The visibility was great, average of about 15m, and we saw some amazing wildlife! Frog fish, a giant sardine bait ball, lots of nudibranchs and flat worms, beautiful corals and fans, mandarin fish, squid, turtles, a variety of little coral crabs and shrimps, mantis shrimp, among many others. The water sat between 25-26°C, which meant that some people were in a 5mm wetsuit, and others were in a 3mm shark skin suit. The best part, in my opinion, was our 2 authentic encounters with whale sharks! The first one was while we were snorkelling. We were heading back from our second dive, debating on doing a third dive, when some of the boat staff started yelling about a shark! We were in the water almost instantly, floating over the top of them. They were 2 juveniles; one dove away quickly when we approached, however the other was very happy swimming around underneath us for several bliss-filled minutes before it swam away (still at the surface, but it just went too quickly for us to follow). The second time we saw one was during a dive! A dive guide from another group spotted another juvenile swimming just along the edge of the wall, whereas our group was a bit higher. She started grunting into her regulator, and banging on her tank to get our attention. We spotted her, saw her give the signal for shark, and instantly swam down as fast as we could to the edge of the wall, to see the stunning sight of this huge shark gently and effortlessly cruising by.
We would definitely love to return to Kasai Resort again for another trip. The diving and the people just made it an amazing and enjoyable experience.
We had a slight hitch on the day we were suppose to leave for Malapascua, as that was the day that the Philippines stopped all domestic flights – this meant that we would be unable to go to Coron for our 3rd leg of the trip. We had all been looking forward to this aspect as that area is known for it’s amazing World War II wrecks. However, as the threat Covid-19 was ramping up, there was nothing that could be done. We decided to continue on with our trip to Malapascua, as at that point in time there were no cases of the virus in Cebu.
It took all day to get to the Exotic Resort in Malapascua, another 6-7 hour journey. The final leg we needed to get onto a little boat to ferry us across to the island. It was a beautiful sunny and calm day, which made the 45 minute crossing very easy. I wouldn’t like to imagine it on a windy day! The island is beautiful; where we were staying was filled with different resorts, and you could see all the boats moored up just along the island. We were due to stay there for 4 days, and had a 6 dive package. The main attraction to this area is, of course, the thresher shark dives! You need to get up very early in the morning to go see them, meeting at the dive centre at 5:15am.
The resort was very nice and well kept, however the food was not as good as we were used to in Kasai, and the staff were not nearly as friendly. We felt quite left alone, and we started to order our meals an hour before we wanted them because the wait was very long, even with very few people on the resort. Several times they would also bring out everyone’s food except for one, and it would take another 30-40 minutes for the last person to get their food.
The dives we had were very good. Especially the thresher shark dive we had in the morning, as we had 3 different sharks swimming very close around us! We were sitting at around 25m, which meant that we weren’t able to stay under for the full hour that we had been enjoying at Kasai Resort due to bottom time, even when diving nitrox. Other things that we saw included: turtles, white tip reef sharks, the tail of a coral catshark, porcupine fish, puffer fish, box fish, ghost pipefish, lots of nudibranchs, sea horses, pygmy sea horses, banded sea snakes, cuttlefish, just to name a few. The visibility on the first day was much better than on the second day, however the second day was when we saw 5 flamboyant cuttle fish doing what is usually called a ‘muck dive,’ so that was very cool and definitely one of the highlights!
We did leave Malapascua a day earlier than originally planned. This was due to the fact a rumour was going around the resort from the staff that they were no longer getting any food or drinks delivered to the island. This is when we were moved to a hotel right by the airport, in the hopes that we would be able to get a fast flight home, due to the coronavirus.
All in all, we would definitely recommend going to Malapascua, however perhaps using a different resort. Exotic Resort, though beautiful and well kept, was not friendly or welcoming, and though our specific dive guide was very good, especially at spotting the little stuff and making sure we all saw it, the rest of the dive staff were not friendly at all. The food was not good and the service was slow, and there was a lingering feeling of resentment from the staff. To cut them some slack, it was a very stressful time due to the coronavirus, and I know that many people were cancelling or moving their trip.
Rather than taking a trip to Coron, we ended up at the Seafront Airport Casino and Hotel, desperately hoping to get a flight out in the upcoming days. Rumours were flying about the Philippines shutting their doors entirely, and we did not want to get stuck abroad! It was a nice hotel, though pretty boring due to the fact that there was nothing super close to the airport, and they had the pool closed for the first day and the gym was closed for the first two. Luckily we did arrange one last day of diving, with SI Diving, about a 30 minute taxi from the hotel! It was a great day out on the boat, doing 3 dives with just our group! They were very easy dives, nice gently sloping walls, down to a maximum of 25m, however most of the dives were spent between 8-15m, and we were able to spend over an hour underwater. It was a great way to break up our long stay at the hotel, as we ended up being there for 4 nights.
There was lots of macro life there – nice corals, sea snakes, nudibranchs, crabs and shrimp, mantis shrimp, beautiful reef fish, and octopus, just to name a few. The wildlife was very similar to the wildlife we saw at Kasai Resort, and the visibility was great, meaning that our group was really able to stretch out and have our own space without the worry of kicking anyone or getting kicked, while still being able to see every person.
This dive shop was very accommodating as we arranged this the day before we went out. They were very friendly, the boat staff were great, and we thoroughly enjoyed out dives with them. We would definitely recommend diving with them again if we get stuck near the airport!
All in all, this was an amazing trip that the whole group thoroughly enjoyed. There was a bit of stress involved due to the global pandemic that was quickly developing before our eyes, but the diving was great, the wildlife fantastic, and the weather beautiful. Kasai Resort and SI diving really blew us away with their customer service, and though we didn’t feel that Exotic Resort was the best fit for our group, we really enjoyed the diving that was offered in that area, and we are still dreaming about the thresher sharks that we had the privilege of seeing! If the Philippines isn’t on your diving list, I would add it, and add it pretty close to the top!