Should You Swim With The Whale Sharks in Oslob, Philippines?

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It’s not an easy question to answer. In recent years there have been quite a few articles and advocates who have encouraged people not to visit the Oslob whale sharks. In order to have the whale sharks returning to the area daily so that visitors can swim with them, feeders give the sharks fish. This has resulted in the whales having an unnatural amount of contact with humans. The artificial feeding behavior has taught the whales to associate people with food. They will now sometimes approach boats rather than staying away from them which can lead to injuries. Injuries can also occur if tourists in the water accidentally kick a shark. 

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The feeding has also resulted in the sharks having less variety in their diet as they spend more time eating the fish that are given to them rather than plankton and such. Some of the Oslob whale sharks spend up to 6 hours a day feeding instead of foraging naturally. In the future, this could end up causing nutritional problems. Additionally, the migratory patterns of the sharks have also changed. The breeding pool of the sharks or the spread of this vulnerable and declining species may be influenced by this. It is hard to say though as the whale sharks are difficult to study and concrete answers hard to come by. Obviously, the best thing for these Oslob whale sharks is to be freely swimming and living the way nature intended.
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Whale shark very closely approaching one of the feeding boats in Oslob

Having tourists visit the Oslob whale sharks is a relatively new practice. Back in 2011 photos of fishermen interacting with Oslob whale sharks were featured in Mail Online. The article was largely positive with conservationist Shawn Heinrich praising the bond that had formed between the sharks and fishermen in Oslob. In other places in the region the same whale sharks were being slaughtered by fishermen. It seems strange that a conservationist would applaud fishermen touching, riding and playing with the sharks until you consider just how bad the slaughter of the whale shakes in the region is.

In 1997 alone around 20 whale sharks were killed in the Philippines to be traded on the Asian market. Others were also killed or harmed by fishermen trying to protect their catch. Around this same time the 1998 the documentary “Whale Shark Hunters” hosted by William Shatner was created for National Geographic. The documentary aimed to highlight the issues surrounding the hunting of whale sharks in the Philippines and to help find alternative livelihoods for the whale shark hunters. This film lead President Ramos to ban the killing of whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines. The Philippines became one of the first countries in the world to ban the killing of whale sharks.

The ban was a great first step but not all in the Philippines have welcomed it. The sharks can interfere with the catch of the fishermen who already struggle to make a living. Even as recent as 2015 in response to whale sharks and dolphins eating the fish in the major fishing grounds of Tañon Strait, Nelson Garcia, mayor of Dumanjug town in Cebu stated: “I want to kill those whale sharks…Man should be the first to survive, not the whales, not the fish, because we will be violating the Bible. God said, man have dominion over the ocean, the fishes, the birds, the animals, and subdue it. That is the order of God.” Tañon Strait is a rich fishing ground but is also part of the natural migratory path of large marine animals.

Whale sharks also still continue to fetch a lot of money in the Asian market. In China a single whale shark at market can bring in $30,000 USD or more, though the fishermen usually get considerably less than that. About 600 whale sharks a year were killed in just one slaughterhouse in Southern China it was found in an investigation between 2010 and 2013. Then in August 2015 the world was shocked by videos of a whale shark in China (WARNING: Graphic!) being butchered at market while still alive. While the sharks are a protected species in Philippines, China and other countries which do not protect the sharks, share many of these fishing waters as well as the migratory paths of the whale sharks with the Philippines.
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Getting the fishermen and local people to see more value in having the whale sharks alive then dead has been key to protecting them. It is easy to say “It is important for our environment to protect the whale sharks!” but when it interferes with your lively hood and ability to provide for your family the choice is not so easy. Groups have instead been working to educate locals and to set up profitable eco-tourism projects in popular whale shark areas.

Donsol Bay and Oslob Whale Sharks

Both Donsol Bay in the Bicol Region of Luzon and Oslob, Cebu are well known for whale sharks. They have both created tourism industries for their small towns around them. As a result the fishermen who once killed them in these areas now protect the whale sharks as tourist dollars bring in more money for them and the entire community.

The major difference between the two sites though is that the whale sharks are not fed in Donsol Bay. This way there is no unnatural feeding, no increased contact with boats, and migratory patterns are not affected. But it also means that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark when you go out in your boat even during the peak viewing season. In the past couple of years reports from tourists started to come out that the whale sharks of Donsol Bay were gone. People were sighting one or no sharks for extended periods of time. This continued for a few years and tourism in the area dropped considerably. Though it seems that the whale sharks have been returning to the area, it is hard to lure people back.

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By feeding the Oslob whale sharks, Oslob is able to guarantee a sighting of a whale shark to its visitors. Seeing a whale shark in a completely natural environment is much more thrilling but when you’ve traveled from far and wide and paid for the experience, patience is hard to come by. As mentioned before though, there are all sorts of problems with this unnatural feeding behavior. The sheer number of visitors to Oslob has also created issues.  In 2014 over 110,000 tourists came to Oslob primarily to see the sharks. Conservation groups have stepped in and regulations have been applied. Tourists are only taken out to the sharks from 6 am – noon each day. Time in the water or boat is limited to 30 minutes. If you plan on going in the water you need to be free from sunscreen to help keep pollutants out of the water etc. Anyone who touches a shark will receive a fine or even jail time.

This does not seem to be enough and suggestions of limiting the number of tourists or stopping the feeding practice have been made repeatedly. They are hard things to put in place though when a guaranteed whale shark sighting means tourists and tourists mean more money for the entire community which doesn’t have many other employment options. The Large Marine Vertebraes Project Philippines (LAMAVE)  is a great organization to check out if you would like to know more. They are working in the Philippines to research and educate, while striving to find a balance between marine conservation, and local community development.

Our Experience
We visited Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental which is just a short boat ride from Oslob so we decided to go and check out the whale shark situation ourselves. We fully prepared to leave if it looked like the whales were being harmed in any way. We stayed in a guesthouse just outside of the town away from the sharks and wished we hadn’t. In there weren’t many restaurants and our guesthouse didn’t offer meals beyond breakfast. Nearly all of the businesses catering to travelers seemed to be around the whale shark viewing area.

s0343844Before we visited the sharks we spoke with some of the boatmen, restaurant owners and other locals. They told us the stories of how in the past many fishermen in the area (or even themselves!) would attack or kill the sharks to keep them away from their catch. Now though they loved the sharks and wanted to keep them healthy and safe. Following the rules and restrictions that had been recommended by outside organizations meant to them that tourist dollars would keep coming into the area. If there are no sharks or the area gets a bad reputation the tourists will go and so will their jobs.

The people we spoke to at the feeding site took their jobs and the safety of the sharks very seriously. It seemed like a well-respected job in the community that many were competing for. Around 300 people work at the feeding site not to mention all the other jobs in the community created to care for tourists. Some mentioned though that they felt that some of the money generated from the whale sharks which was supposed to go into developing the town was being used by other areas in the region instead. I really don’t know about the financial allocations though.

dscf3571-2We decided to go out in a boat to see the sharks based on the positive stories we had been told. We traveled in August and arrived around 7:30 am. There were not many people and so the three of us were sent out in our own boat with 2 staff after the safety briefing. One staff member would keep our boat in place while the other took photos for us (for an additional fee). If you are a strong swimmer you can get into the water to view the sharks underwater though most people stayed in the boats. If traveling with a small child it is best to bring your own lifejacket since they may not have the correct size for little ones. 

s0173699We did not see anyone touch or harass the sharks. The whale sharks did at times though get very close to the boats of the feeders. They may have touched the sides of them. If feeding the sharks is truly necessary (I don’t think it is) it would seem that some sort of alternative could be arranged so that the feeders had no contact with them at all!

We had an incredible experience and feel really lucky to have been able to interact with these beautiful and peaceful sharks. We left with more questions than when we first arrived though. There seems to be no straight cut answer as to how to best protect the sharks. Though Donsol Bay seems to be the clear choice for responsible eco-tourism, I don’t think I would say that you shouldn’t go to see the Oslob whale sharks. The community genuinely appears to want to find a solution that is both beneficial to the sharks but also supports their livelihood. The whales may also have arguably been more at risk when these same boatmen sought to kill them just a few years ago. Rather, supporting groups which actively work to find a balance, and reporting mistreatment or violations when spotted so that practices can be improved may be the way to go. It is clear though, that more can and needs to be done to help protect these gentle giants.

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Memories of our Camel Safari in Jaisalmer, India

Recently our trip to India has been coming up in conversations for a variety of reasons over and over. The trip was a personal reward for completing my master’s degree and was also going to be our last big trip before we tried to start a family. Possibly the biggest highlight of the trip was the camel safari we took in Jaisalmer just across from the Pakistani border.

Girls parade in Jaisalmer India

We had started our trip in Delhi and then traveled by train to Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, and Jodhpur before arriving in Jaisalmer. Instantly we loved the city. There was a slower pace here than the other cities we had visited and fewer tourists.

Cow in market street jaisalmer india


Booking Your Safari

Though the spectacular Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest preserved fortified cities in the world, most tourists come to town to go on a camel safari. There are many tour groups and travel agencies in the area who can help arrange a safari. TripAdvisor is a great place to look for reviews by other tourists of the different camel safari companies in Jaisalmer.

Another option is to allow your hotel to arrange the safari and we went with this second option. We did an overnight tour and since we still had a room reserved with all of our things in it at the hotel for the night away, we were given a discount for booking through them. On our tour there was only my husband and I, two women and our camel handlers.

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The Desert Tour

Our tour began with a jeep ride to Bada Bagh which is a garden complex with beautiful cenotaphs just outside of Jaisalmer. After visiting for some time and exploring the small village area, we were driven about 2 hours into the desert to meet our guides and the camels.

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We waited while the camels were loaded up and then that was that. I’m not sure if our guides couldn’t speak English very much or just didn’t but not much was said for the next day really!

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dsc_0415We followed the path through the desert. There was nothing around. We noticed that the plants and grasses would change as we went through different areas but there were no buildings or people for as far as the eye could see. Suddenly though there were sheep! Lots and lots of sheep. Our camels to wait for this large group of sheep to pass across the desert path.

We got down off of our camels and some of the sheep sniffed us curiously as they surrounded us. After what seemed like ages we could hear a faint bell ringing. As it became clearer a single man came into sight. He was the shepherd of this large flock taking them who knows where across the desert. He and our guides exchanged greetings and then we just carried on our way.dsc_0420
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“Carrying on our way” is actually much easier said than done. Getting back up on our camels required holding on for dear life while it felt like you were going to topple over forward and then flip over backwards. Camels also smell quite bad and would relieve themselves constantly while walking. Every person in the line except the very first got to repeatedly witness the camel in front of them urinate and defecate over the 3 hours of our trek.

There was also the discomfort. Even with pillows, blankets and padding it was fairly uncomfortable for a woman. My husband though wondered if we would in fact be able to have children in the future (2 weeks after returning home I was pregnant).

We took our next break at a hand pump in the desert next to the path. There was a well where the guides filled up their canteens with water. We ran into another camel guide there and also a dog who was asking for water. After having a drink, the dog followed us along the path to where we would make camp that night.

From what we could understand, the dog just lives out in the desert. When someone comes to the well, he gets water. When tours come along, he follows them and gets a warm meal. Every day just walking along the desert path.
dsc_0447When we got to the dunes we were able to go explore while our guides made camp and cooked dinner. I have never felt sand as soft as the sand in the Thar Desert. It felt like silk running between our fingers. Though it seemed like nothing was there we discovered all sorts of small animals, birds and insects.
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dsc_0482We then gathered around the fire, ate our meal and after the sun went down we went to sleep under the stars. It was winter when we went but the blankets kept us more than adequately warm. I’ve heard that some tours include tents but we loved sleeping out in the open air.dsc_0469
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In the middle of the night our fire had died down and I woke up to find that I couldn’t move my legs. Something was definitely on top of my legs. I moved as little as possible and woke up my husband beside me. Through whispers I asked him to grab the camera from the top of my backpack and to quickly take a photo so we could see what it was without disturbing it by shining a flashlight on it and angering it.

The image showed that there was something black on my feet. I decided that if it was going to kill me, it probably would have done so already so we just left it. The next morning we found that the creature was a black dog. A very old black dog that was so ancient that every step was labored. She was hardly a threat.

Years ago she had likely also walked the trails like the white dog we had met but now she spent her days sleeping closer to the camps. When visitors set up for the night, then she would come.dscn4332After the sun had risen and our breakfast finished we packed back up and headed in to town. We had the option of riding for 3 hours again or being picked up by the jeep after about an hour and a half instead. We opted for the shorter camel trip as we were all having difficulty walking. We were all pretty quiet on that trip back to town. The desert has a wonderful ability to make everything quieter at the time and loud conversations didn’t seem appropriate. We then just said good byes and continued on our trip.dsc_0478

Hoi An, Vietnam: Spending Some Time Around the Old Town

In 1999, the old town of Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The narrow streets are lined with buildings from centuries ago and in the evening lanterns light their way. Hoi An is more than just this historic town though! Beautiful white sand beaches line the coast, fantastic restaurants can be found and it is about an hour away from the temple complex My Son. Found around 40 minutes south of Da Nang International Airport, Hoi An makes it an easy day trip or a logical second destination from Da Nang on your trip to Vietnam.

Accommodation

We booked our room at the fantastic Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa. Just on the outskirts of town we were given a huge room with a fantastic floor to ceiling window overlooking the rice fields. Our son loved spending time just sitting in the window and watching the world go by. We witnessed some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen there and even saw some rare iridescent clouds one evening!

Though being outside of the main part of town may seem inconvenient it actually worked out really well for us! Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa provide free bicycles for their guests to use and they do have seats for children. The busy main road can feel intimidating especially with kids in tow but right in front of the hotel is a small street that follows the path of the river. You can take this small road all the way right into the old town avoiding nearly all of the traffic!20160711_192259_HDR
Plan your trip to Hoi An with TripAdvisor! 

As well as bicycles to use free of charge Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa also offers a shuttle service several times a day to the old quarter and the beach. If you aren’t feeling up to going to the beach they have a lovely pool on site! They can also arrange transportation and tours outside of town for a competitive price.  

The hotel has a great restaurant and will even prepare special meals to order at breakfast for people with special dietary needs. If you’re looking for something a little different a bike ride to the main restaurant area in the old quarter is less than 10 minutes away. We found ourselves getting dinner at the Indian restaurant Ganesh a couple of evenings while in Hoi An. Ganesh makes some of the best Indian food we’ve had anywhere, including India! It’s no wonder they were packed the first time we were there but luckily they offer take out as well. There are a fair number of child friendly items on their large menu as well.DSC_4868Best of all were the staff at the hotel! They went out of their way to talk to us, make sure we were ok and were exceptionally friendly. Everyone made an effort to learn our son’s name and to interact with him as well as with my husband and I. He felt right at home and needed to make sure to say goodbye to everyone before we left. Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa is family friendly while retaining a feeling of class and professionalism. We highly recommend them!

Beaches

The two main beaches in Hoi An are Cua Dai beach which is closer to the old quarter and An Bang beach a little further north. Though many resorts can still be found at Cua Dai beach, much of this beach was washed away by erosion in 2014. Climate change, bad weather, hydropower dams, and sand mining have all been listed as contributing factors and sandbags lie in place of the beach in an attempt to prevent the erosion from continuing further. Due to the loss of Cua Dai beach, many tourists now choose to stay at beach resorts in Da Nang instead and those staying locally have now moved to An Bang beach. Though An Bang beach has been affected by erosion too, it is not to the extent that Cua Dai beach has and efforts are being made to help protect it. An Bang Beach remains a beautiful white sand beach.DSC_4810We visited An Bang Beach a couple of times during our stay in Hoi An. The chairs were free to use when we visited which we a good thing as it was exceptionally hot those days and there is little shade on the beach otherwise. Unlike Da Nang where there was no one trying to sell us souvenirs on the beach, An Bang Beach did have vendors and some were quite aggressive, one man so much so that he brought me to tears. Only when I was crying did he finally leave me alone. In all my travels, I have never run into a vender on the beach as unpleasant as he was. The others were persistent but not aggressive.DSC_4884There are a lot of restaurants around An Bang Beach and even some small convenience style stores which sell imported goods. I spotted Lays chips and Cheerios here and nowhere else on our travels in Vietnam. Our hotel’s shuttle dropped us off at the beach road near An Bang Beach Village Restaurant. The restaurant will take your order and bring your meal right out to your beach chair. That was a lifesaver when a certain 3 year old didn’t want to stop playing in the sand even though it was lunch time! We particularly liked their scallops and their fish wrapped in a banana leaf.

Old Town

In the evening, the place to be in Hoi An is the Old Town. The streets are closed to cars and motorcycles and as the sun sets the lanterns are lit. A ticket is required to visit the old town but despite the government’s efforts to make it clearer, there is a lot of confusion still. Previously a ticket was only required to visit sites within the old town and not to just walk around but it seems that now you need a ticket to wander the streets.  Each ticket costs 80,000 VND for locals and 120,000 VND for foreign tourists. The proceeds from the ticket sales go back into helping to maintain the town. We arrived fairly early one evening around the same time as a large tour group and so we were asked to purchase a ticket. The other days we arrived later in the evening or through other gates and were not asked to purchase a ticket nor did we have our ticket checked. We were told that the ticket is valid for 5 days and so we kept it on us each time we went just in case but I have also heard that it is valid for 10 days.

A night market is also set up each evening where you can buy souvenirs or one of the town’s famous lanterns for yourself! Don’t worry about how you are going to bring it home. They collapse down for easy packing! DSC_4816Some of the vendors will quote ridiculously high prices requiring a lot of haggling. One shirt I bought was originally quoted as being $30 but I got it for around $7 in the end. Checking out other shops to compare what they are asking for helps give you a good idea of what the going price is. Other items we didn’t bother to barter as it seemed like a reasonable price to us, though I’m sure locals pay less. Something we’ve never run into in our travels elsewhere but happened several times in Vietnam is that a vendor would quote a ridiculously high price and refuse to negotiate. In that case it is best to just walk away and forget about it…sometimes though it pays to go back.DSC_4768After being dragged around by mommy and daddy in the heat to the market our son REALLY wanted a cheaply made green backhoe toy, the kind you see at the dollar store back home. The woman wanted $7 for it and absolutely refused to budge on the price. We went off and wouldn’t you know, she was the only vendor with a green backhoe! Lots of yellow and orange ones but no green. Daddy went back to try again and the woman absolutely refused to budge on the price…until her elderly mother came by and told her to smarten up! He ended up getting it for about $2.50 which is still more than it’s worth I’m sure but our little boy was thrilled.DSC_4782

DSC_4784My Son Temple Complex

Built around the 4th century AD until around the 14th century AD, the My Son Hindu temple complex is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site just outside of Hoi An. Over 70 temples and tombs make up the site but it was badly damaged by carpet bombing during the war. Restoration and maintenance of remaining buildings continues to this day.DSC_4798Day bus tours from Hoi An cost around $5-$7, not including admission to the site. It takes about an hour to get to My Son from Hoi An and tours spend about an hour and a half at the site. Private cars can also be arranged but we decided to use the more economical option of a group tour. In our case a small mini bus picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the site. There was a guide included in that price but because we were traveling with a small child we told the guide that we would visit the site at our own pace separately. This was perfectly fine. It took us about half an hour to walk the complex, explore a bit and to sit under a tree to have a small snack. The tour group spent about an hour and a half.DSC_4799The site is well maintained and easy to walk around. There is also a lot of wild life around My Son. I have never seen so many large butterflies in my life! They were absolutely everywhere! We also saw a really cool lizard. It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible in some parts though. We did see a couple with a stroller but they had to carry it over some rough sections and up some stairs to get closer to the temple. If you can bare the heat, a baby carrier is probably a better option. DSC_4804As interesting as My Son is though, if you have visited any of the larger temple complexes in Asia like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Bagan temples in Myanmar you will likely feel underwhelmed. In the summer it is also exceptionally hot. Unless you are a really big fan of temples, I would skip it in the summer if you are traveling with small children. In cooler weather though it’s a great place to explore for an hour or so.

Also Nearby
Da Nang is only 40 minutes from the ancient city of Hoi An. Click here to read about what we did in Da Nang!

Vietnam travel guide - 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Vietnam travel guide – 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips – hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets – eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience – history, people & culture, food & drink, arts & architecture, environment Free, convenient pull-out Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi map (included in print version), plus over 86 maps. By Iain Stewart , Benedict Walker , Nick Ray , Anna Kaminski, Jessica Lee , Brett Atkinson . 13th Edition Aug 2016. . 520 pages, 192 pp colour, 93 maps.


Manila, Philippines for your Next Family Vacation!

Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation …really! I know what you’re thinking. It’s busy, crowded and the traffic is bad. There are no beaches. When I told my husband I was going to write a post on why Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation he made that same face that you are probably making right now! Which is exactly why I had decided to write this post.

We’ve spent a few days here and there in Manila on several occasions over the years and other than the shady taxi situation at the airport we have never had any problems. On our last trip to the Philippines though we actually planned some vacation time in the city with our son and we had a fantastic time (which my husband DID end up remembering)!

The Manila Jeepney

Thanks to the Tagalog for Kids Flash Card set we have at home “Jeepney” was one of the first vehicle words our son learnt along with car and truck. On our first trip to the Philippines to meet his lolo and lola we arrived around midnight in Manila. We pulled out of the airport in our taxi and there it was: “Jeepney!” He was only 21 months old at the time but it was a dream come true. Everywhere he looked, there they were. The taxi driver found it more than a little amusing that there was this little boy pointing out and yelling in excitement “Jeepney! Jeepney!” over and over. The next year when we visited we kept our eyes open for the brightly painted icons of the city, added additional toys to his Jeepney collection and even got to “drive” a Jeepney.

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Driving a Jeepney on display at Manila Ocean Park

Kids love Jeepneys and so do tourists on their Philippines vacation! The Jeepney is to Manila like the streetcar is to San Francisco. Though you can still track down some fantastically styled Jeepneys for your little car lover to marvel at they are becoming increasingly less common. Or at least the painted ones are.

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The most impressive Jeepney we saw in Manila. They are becoming less common.

I’ve heard two different takes on why this is. In the media I read that it is getting too expensive for drivers to decorate their Jeepneys. This may be true but I find it hard to believe. There are companies out there that offer to sponsor decorations and the more attractive Jeepneys tended to get more business in the past. When we were in Manila several different taxi drivers told us that the real reason was because of tension between the drivers of the decorated and not decorated Jeepneys. They said that the drivers of the non-decorated vehicles were unhappy that they were getting less business and that rules may have been put in place to discourage the decoration to create a more equal playing field. Whatever the reason, our son loves the Jeepney and the decorated ones even more so. Hopefully measures are taken to preserve this part of the Filipino culture and tradition.

Hotel H2O and Manila Ocean Park

On the way to the hotel our son fell asleep. We checked in, went to our room, placed him on the bed and waited. When he woke up he slowly sat up in bed and looked around unsure of where he was and then…fish! An entire wall of our room was a giant aquarium! We couldn’t have planned the surprise any better.

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He doesn't know yet that he's sleeping in an aquarium!

Located in Luneta, Manila behind the Quirino Grandstand and actually situated on Manila Bay, Hotel H2O features aquarium themed rooms. There are rooms that have beautiful views of Manila Bay but what we were after was the “Aqua” themed room. In the Aqua rooms an entire wall of the room is an aquarium. The fish are not confined to your room but rather the aquarium goes between the rooms so your visitors are always changing. We spent ages excitedly waiting for “Dory” to make her appearance in our room again. Twice a day the fish are fed in your room so each guest gets to see a great display of fish gathering at that time.

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Feeding time. We found Dory!

On the same grounds of Hotel H20 is Manila Ocean Park. Ocean Park is an 8,000 square meter oceanarium which features a 25 meter long underwater walkway, the tallest musical fountain in the Philippines, numerous tanks of fish and other underwater sea life, a penguin exhibit and a sea lion performance to name a few.

When we stayed at Hotel H20 we had just returned from a trip to Apo Island and Oslob to see the sea turtles and whale sharks so we were not very interested in visiting Ocean Park. I have heard mixed reviews of Ocean Park. Some people love it and others not so much. It really seems to depend on what you are expecting and which exhibits you attend.

Manila Ocean Park, Birds of Prey Kingdom

We did though check out Ocean Park’s newest attraction the Birds of Prey Kingdom. Our son loves birds and we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to see some up close. I think perhaps we didn’t read the description properly but when we saw that it was BirdS of Prey we thought there would be a variety of birds. Instead there is only the Brahminy Kite (the Lawin or Banog). The enclosure was also smaller than expected and we lost interest after about 10 minutes. We only bought tickets for that attraction. If you have purchased a pass it is worth checking out. A great chance to see a beautiful local bird up close and they seem healthy and well cared for.

Rizal Park and Intramuros

Probably about a 5 minute walk from Hotel H2O is Rizal Park. Traveling with a VERY active child we went there many times during our trip to Manila just to run and play. The thing that really struck me about this park is how alive it is. Early in the morning as the sun is rising, joggers run around in the cooler morning air and around noon people from local businesses gather to have their lunch. You can catch a ride around the park on a kalesa (horse drawn carriage). In the evening the park is full of families playing together, students practicing their dance routines and couples on dates. It was one of our favourite places to go as a family in Manila. In the evening they also have a fairly impressive light and music show at the fountain. FAQ.ph has an interesting post on some of the historical and national highlights at the park.

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The kalesa ride 

The light and music show at the fountain at night

A 15 minute walk from Rizal Park is Intramuros though you might want to opt for the 7 min taxi drive instead. The walking route was poorly marked and whenever we asked for directions the people in the area surprisingly didn’t seem to know the way or sent us in the wrong direction. Our walk ended up taking us over an hour!

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Intramuros is the oldest district of Manila and the historic center of the city. Once you get there though there are ruins, old churches and buildings, walls, and prisons to explore and discover. Kids (and parents!) can get swept away pretending they are soldiers of Fort Santiago and imagining where the gold from the legend of Yamashita’s Treasure might be hidden!


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