At first glance, I didn’t like Boracay. Despite having one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia in White Beach, I found it loud, over the top and tacky. Hawkers follow you down the street trying to sell you hats, sunglasses and day trips, and masseuses line the beach shouting “MASSAGE, SIR-MAM?”.
In fact I disliked it so much that for my first full day I was questioning whether I’d made a huge mistake in coming to the Philippines at all. Most people I had spoken to about travelling in the Philippines would say ‘Oh my God, I just LOVE it there’. Walking Boracay’s beach front I was wondering what they meant, and how I could be missing what others can plainly see.
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But after a few days of settling in, I began to love Boracay for all its tackiness and more. I embraced its crazy rhythm and pretty soon I was being swept along, singing and dancing by love for the Philippines. So what made me change my mind? Here are a few weird things about Boracay which I ended up finding extremely endearing.
1. A Toilet Cafe
If there’s one place in the world that I definitely wouldn’t want to eat my dinner and that’s sitting on the bog. So why did I find myself paying for this privilege in Boracay? Because it’s home to the Philippines’ first ever toilet themed restaurant, that’s why!
Boracay Toilet is an absolute must for anyone with a childish sense of humour (like me… teehee). As well as sitting on real toilets, you eat from toilet bowl and urinal shaped plates and cups. Food is also given such delightful names such as ‘chicken crap’ and ‘pork shit’.
Despite looking and sounding like shit, the food is actually really delicious. Read my full review of the Boracay Toilet here.
2. “Brown Outs”
Speaking of brown things, there are frequent power cuts on the island, which the locals call ‘brown outs’. Some of you might be reading this thinking that’s completely normal but in England we call them blackouts and simply switching that one word when you’ve just stumbled out of a toilet cafe can do all kinds of things to your brain.
3. Singing… Everywhere!
This isn’t scrictly limited to Boracay, as the whole country is karaoke mad, but people sing. All the time, anywhere, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a good voice or not. At first, as a rather conservative Brit I didn’t know what to make of it, but I ended up loving it!
So next time that cafe worker gives you a rendition of Taylor Swift’s ‘We are never ever everrrrr getting back together’, just smile and sing along! They may even take requests!
Side note: Karaoke is serious business here in the Philippines, and although it’s a bit of fun it’s seriously bad form to laugh at or mock anyone singing. People will take massive offense and it may even get you into trouble. Smile and enjoy, of course. But never mock.
4. Station 1, Station 2, Station 3…
These are the uninspired names of the three main areas along White Beach, Boracay’s biggest tourist hub. The stations refer to the boat stations which used to be here several years ago, but now the names have simply stuck.
Station 1 is known for higher end resorts, a wider beach and its powdery white sand which is so soft it feels like flour underfoot. It also has a few nice beach shack style bars, and some high end restaurants.
People will tell you you can’t get a cheap room in Station 1. Not true. We found a very nice family-run hotel called White Coral, which we bargained down to only 1800 pesos a night for a room with air conditioning, fast Wifi and only a 2 minute walk to the beach.
Station 2 is known as the party station. It’s where you’ll find the majority of the bars and restaurants, lots of them loud and spilling down onto the beach. On a Friday and Saturday night Station 2 is off-the-hook busy and everything stays open super late. I would avoid staying in Station 2 unless you’re a party animal.
Station 3 is the quietest part of the beach, with cheap accommodation and a few restaurants and bars. The sand is courser and it’s generally thought to be not as nice, although it looked fine to me!
5. Nigi Nigi’s Egg Challenge
There’s a restaurant in Station 2 called Nigi Nigi Nu Nus (no joke) which lets you oder as many eggs with breakfast as you like. Absolute winner if you’re hungry or you’re on a budget… Fill yourself up in the morning and then you won’t have to eat again until sundown.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a competitive eater, then try to break the record for most eggs eaten in one sitting for the chance to win free meals for the next 3 days. The current record stands at 39 and is held by a man from the UK. It’s almost enough for me to feel patriotic!
6. Fire Dancing
Every Southeast Asian beach resort worth its salt will have a few locals throwing around kerosine soaked balls of fire. The party islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Phi Phi are particularly known for them, however I sometimes get the feeling that something’s about to go horribly wrong.
Some fire dancers are better than others, and you’ll be able to tell the good from the bad by the bubbling burn wounds on the dancer’s arms and legs.
In Boracay, they are a different breed. You can see kids as young as two learning the ropes on the beach with glowing balls on string, and all this practice sure pays off. The ‘fire magicians’ as they shall henceforth be known are absolutely outstanding, twisting and turning the fire around their bodies like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
7. Chef Dancing
Yep, you read that right! If fire dancing isn’t your thing, then perhaps a few dozen chefs dancing outside their place of work dressed in full chef whites will be your thing?
Some of them were just sort of going through the motions but a handful really got into it, with one spritely young chef even treating the crowd to a backflip! Just stroll along Station 2’s beachfront on a Saturday night and you may happen upon them.
Basketball is the national sport in the Philippines, and it’s widely celebrated with regular street parades including huge live bands. This was a bit of a shock when I heard a band marching by and went outside to watch, only to see hundreds and hundreds of basketball players walking through town instead.
9. SirMam, MamSir
I just love this. People politely call you ‘Mam’ or ‘Sir’, but if you’re travelling as a couple you end up being ‘MamSir, or SirMam’.
10. Asian tourists taking pictures
OK, this isn’t completely unique to Boracay but it’s probably one of the worst offenders I’ve seen in a long time. The good old fashioned ‘selfie’ is fine in small doses, but Asian tourists really know how to take it up a level.
I watched people pose for hours (no joke!) to get that perfect shot. In the water, out of the water, with selfie stick, without selfie stick, from above, from below, in a dress, in a bikini, wearing shoes, barefoot, with sunglasses, without sunglasses, with a hat, without a hat… The list goes on and on.
There always seems to be an obliging boyfriend taking about a thousand photos of his beloved in all manner of different poses too. It must be exhausting!
Some well-prepared selfie takers have tripods set up along the beach to capture that perfect group or ‘sunset jumping’ shot. Sometimes you can’t move for people striving for that perfect selfie. Of course I try to ruin as many as possible, should they make the fatal mistake of getting me in the background.
11. Little España
One of the things I couldn’t get used to at first was just how Spanish it feels here. I knew that the Philippines was colonised by Spain until 1898 but there’s just something so awesome about a Hispanic / Asian mix of culture (my two favourites!), and you can’t really imagine it until you get here.
As well as having a lot of Spanish words within the Filipino language, you can also hear it in its music and taste it in the food, in dishes such as pork adobo and lechon (BBQ meat).
12. The Kids
I just love it when kids are allowed to be kids. There’s far too much pressure on Western kids to grow up quickly, and I think that’s probably the saddest thing about Western culture. Why can’t kids just run around and play, rather than sit inside playing video games and stalking their idols on instagram?
In Boracay, most of the kids are just having fun, racing each other and playing games on the beach. And why not when you have a perfect white beach to play on? Some of the older kids create sandcastles to earn a few pesos from passing tourists, and they are fantastically talented.
I should note though, that there is a small minority of children who are being exploited on Boracay Beach by being sent out to beg. I choose not to give to beggars for many reasons, and encourage you to do the same to avoid dependence on begging and child exploitation.
13. Crepe Ice Creams
Who even knew that this was a thing? Ice creams, but instead of a waffle or wafer cone, you get it served in a rolled up crepe! Now that I know about this, I’m never going to enjoy a standard ice cream ever again.
14. D Mall
In the middle of Station 2, you’ll find an outdoor collection of shops and restaurants known as D Mall. Again, not the most inspired of names, as there’s also an E Mall (although where A, B and C Mall are, I don’t know), but it’s a tacky and fun place to spend a couple of hours.
For ultimate tackiness, take a ride on the tiny ferris wheel which gives you views of pretty much nothing, and then go and have a drink at The Hobbit.
This is Boracay’s fish market, also known as the ‘wet market’ and for good reason. The floors are often soaked with fish guts and stinky, slimy gunge. It’s a pretty gross place to wear your flip flops, but there is one redeeming feature about D’Talipapa.
You can buy fish and seafood fresh from the market stalls (at market prices) and then head to one of the nearby cookhouses to get it cooked for a small fee. It’s the cheapest way to enjoy seafood on the island and as you’ve picked it out yourself, you know it’s super fresh.
16. The Sunset Cruises
I wanted to try and sunset cruise from the first day we arrived, but it took until the last night to get around to doing it. Why? It seemed so crowded with sail boats that I thought it would be kind of claustrophobic. Actually it turned out to be great fun!
Just wander down to Station 1 at about 4.30pm (roughly an hour before sunset) and you can hire your own outrigger boat for half an hour for 1000 pesos (about £13). We even took a couple of beers onboard to enjoy, which was no problem with the captain.
So, did I end up loving Boracay? Not exactly, but I warmed to its tackiness. That’s a kind of love, right?