December was also the month I took a genuine break - my only real vacation this entire year packed with unusual events. Hopped on a short flight to Manila for a surgical conference, only to realize that we haven't registered and ended up doing everything else besides attending conference! One thing stood out : our previous fellows a.k.a Manila hosts - they are amazingly helpful, affable and hospitable.
Since my return from Manila and boracay, I've been heaping praises upon the beaches of the Visayas islands. It was an accidental vacation, squeezed in just because we wanted to visit the Philippines General Hospital smack in the middle of Ermita (apparently, a 'scarlet' district during the days of G.I Joes). Thus the highlight of the Manila segment of the trip was to visit the trauma unit in one of the busiest hospitals in Manila.
Conditions were harsh as we saw how the trauma patients were treated. I was simply amazed at how the doctors keep their spirits up. Emerging from the hospital, I was very glad that even the smaller hospitals that I have worked in back in Malaysia wasn't like that.
Stark contrasts abound in this metropolis - the differences between Makati or Bonifacio compared to Ermita, Manila City, etc astounded me at all levels. Its like two different countries. Traffic is of course locked in this ever-present congestion as it takes 1 hour to travel from one end of the city to the other. The least we could do is to visit the most historic part of the city - the Intramuros, Rizal Park, Manila Cathedral and San Augustin Cathedral. The whole area is very different from the rest of the urban crawl. It's actually quite charming and Spanish-looking.
Favourite pastimes on the island with the longest stretch of beach imaginable (I couldn't reach the end of the beach on foot) include diving, snorkelling, sailing, fishing, lazing, people-gazing, eating, shopping, eating :-) Or just soaking in the warm shallow clear waters and admiring the brilliant sunset.
On the small island opposite Boracay island, there were interesting stony structures, reminiscent of those I saw in Ireland years ago.
Thats the 'best' sunset I could get out of the mostly cloudy days here. I guess rainy season ain't so kind to us after all. We had alternating good and bad weather on this island as compared to non-stop blazing sunshine during the dry season in the middle of the year.
We landed on the part of the island near Shangri-La Hotel, almost on the private beach owned by the hotel. It seemed very picturesque, but this part of the island is quite deserted.
One of the many restaurants on the white beach. It was totally packed with all sorts of business - mainly restaurants, massage services, manicure/pedicure/spa, souvenirs stalls, etc. Tourism is indeed alive and kicking on this island.