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Searching for magic in mystical Siquijor

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Siquijor had not been in my original plans for my trip to the Philippines but what would I have missed had I not gone there!siquijor hammocksSee, travel planning in the Philippines is not easy. You have to plan well in advance, something that I’m just not good at. I prefer rocking up to a place, see if I like it, if so, I stay, if not, I move on. What if I fall in love with Palawan and four nights aren’t enough? But I have a plan ticket and am forced to leave?siquijor beachSince the Philippines are an island nation, you have to fly to most places. The islands that are close together are easy to hop around by ferry, which doesn’t cost that much, but plane tickets are a bit more pricey – unless you book them well in advance. Booking a plane ticket only a couple of days prior to your flight is expensive, as it turns out.siquijor sea shellI was supposed to fly from Cebu to Palawan and then back to Manila, but when I finally settled on a date to fly to Palawan, flights were outrageously expensive. So I had a few days to kill until there was a flight that was affordable, and luckily I was on Bohol at the time, just a short ferry ride from Siquijor, an island Carla had suggested I should check out.ferry to siquijorAs soon as I stepped off the boat, I was glad I came – it was the perfect island paradise. What a welcome!siquijor beach from the pierUpon researching what there was to do in Siquijor, I had come across several travel writers who were comparing Siquijor with Boracay before it became the crowded, touristy island it is these days. Wide deserted beaches, barely any tourists, only a few hotels scattered along the shore, no chain restaurant in sight.siquijor beachI teamed up with two Swiss guys to find a place to stay and a tricycle driver offered to take us to a few places. Each and every one had a backyard like this:siquijor beach with hammock philippinesIt was love at first sight. While the two boys lucked out and got the last bungalow in the beautiful Royal Cliff Resort, our driver dropped me off at Czars Place since my preferred choice, JJs (with a beachfront bar and hangout area) was fully booked. Czars was fine, and actually perfectly located across the street from the fabulous Baha Bar, a brand new restaurant that had only been open for three weeks when I was on the island, and quickly became my local hangout, thanks to the veggie-friendly and creative menu, real coffee and glorious ocean views (and it has beach access as well, it’s just a question of time until they add a couple of bungalows, I think).

siquijor filipino breakfast
Vegetarian breakfast dish at Baha Bar: Fried aubergine with rice and soy sauce

Our tricycle driver Tata asked me if I wanted to tour the island with him the next day, offering me his tour guide and driver services. Since I was still too afraid to get back on a motorbike by myself (after a bad accident in Thailand a few years ago), I agreed. At first I was bummed that I couldn’t just rent a motorbike and set off on my own, which is much cheaper (daily motorbike rental rates are around 300 pesos/ US$6.68) and would give me the freedom to stop wherever I want, whenever I want and for how long I want, but I ended up appreciating having a local guide when we sped down the ring road around the island the following day.siquijor viewI was able to observe island life, not having to worry about directions and could take selfies of us (those are the situations selfie-sticks are for, right?). I also enjoyed the little insights he gave me on life in Siquijor, which is pretty much still a fishermen’s island. He told me about people’s priorities: everyone saves up for a TV (and pretty much everyone owns one), but a washing machine is a luxury that only wealthy people have. And indeed I saw many women doing their laundry the old-fashioned way: in the streams we passed, scrubbing their clothes on a rock.

siquijor coconuts
Coconut production is big on Siquijor

Tata doesn’t need a bank account and has no idea how an ATM works, and why would he need to know. Life is simple in Siquijor, an island known for its healing powers and witchcraft.siquijor fishing boatThere are still many mangkukulam (sorcerers) on the island today who brew traditional ointments for all sorts of sickness and people come here especially for them, and rumor has it that they don’t only cure pain and illnesses, but they are also able to fix heartbreak, and if necessary, take out a competitor, heal jealousy or use some magic to prevent a divorce, which is not legal in the strictly Catholic Philippines (but black magic on the other hand isn’t strictly Catholic, which is why it is not much talked about).siquijor beachI didn’t see a single healer but I healed my blistered feet in the fish spa right under the 400 year old ‘enchanted’ balete tree that is known as Siquijor’s most majestic landmark. And majestic it was, with its massive branches forming a canopy that offers shade for half of the man-made pools below the tree. Standing next to it made me feel tiny!siquijor treeThe pools are man-made, but the water is coming from a natural source under the tree, which is why the locals believe that the waters, coming from this special tree (the oldest one in the region), has mystical powers.Dani SiquijorI am not sure if its special powers enchanted me, but my feet sure felt good after the fish nibbled on them.siquijor fish spa philippinesFrom there, we went to the Cambugahay Falls which seems to be a favorite not only with tourists but with locals as well. At the waterfalls you have a series of pools in which you can swim and even swing-jump into the water from a long rope,, tarzan-style. I could have spent the rest of the day there, but Tata had some other sights he wanted me to see.siquijor waterfall funWe stopped at the nearby Lazi Church, a remnants of the Spanish who built this church (and adjoining convent) in 1884, which is now one of the very few remaining Baroque churches in the Philippines, and a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage site status.Siquijor Lazi Church and ConventTata took me to the hidden Kagusaan Bay where we only saw two other people, a hidden fishermen’s beach that is so secret that I can’t tell you the name of it.siquijor waterOur last stop for the day was Salagdoong Beach, an official government beach where we had to pay an entrance fee (PHP45 / US$1). I thought that it had been ruined with too much concrete everywhere, including two concrete water slides (that weren’t even working) and was my least favorite stop of the day. But when the least pretty stop looks like this, you know that you’ve had a very good day:siquijor island beachWe passed  goats, cows, banana plantations, small wooden houses on the side of the road, rice fields and only very few other motorbikes. Had I been brave enough to get back on a motorcycle, this island would have actually been the perfect place to do it and to slowly ease into it again.siquijor streetI spent my time on the island with walks on the beach, watching the local fishermen walk out to their boats in the afternoon so that the fish that’s grilled in front of every restaurant in the evening is as fresh as it gets.siquijor sunsetSunsets are best enjoyed with good company and a beer, so I headed over to JJs to mingle with other travelers, and it’s actually here where a girl suggests my next stop: Apo Island! This meant that I didn’t get to spend as much time on Siquijor as it deserves, but wait for my next post and you’ll see why I had to follow her recommendation.siquijor beach dogI didn’t leave the island without one big party though: Surprisingly, it turned out that Czars was the literal center of the party on Friday night when a stage was erected in the backyard, a live band was announced, and later that night half the island and seemingly all of the tourists who were around showed up for a massive dance party. The window of my room was facing the stage, so I basically had no chance but to join the party.. Sleeping with the music blaring would have been impossible – but I don’t think I ever need an excuse to dance 😉Siquijor Sunset ChillingThis dance party was a rare exception on the otherwise very quiet island – Siquijor is anything but a party island, and I loved the simple, laid back life there. I am still grateful for the overpriced flights to Palawan, because without them, I would have never gotten to know this island paradise.siquijor palm trees

Practical information

  • If you’re visiting Siquijor and would use the lovely Tata as your driver, you can call him at 09351927656. He has a motorbdani and tataike and a tuktuk (which fits for) and can organize motorbike rentals, too. A motorbike tour with him is PHP700 (US$15.86), tuktuk tour is PHP1,000 (US$22.23).
  • You can get to Siquijor via ferry (45 minutes, PHP210 / US$4.76) from Dumaguete on nearby Negros Oriental. Dumaguete has an airport with regular flights to Manila, or you can take a ferry to Cebu or Bohol from here.
  • Rooms start at 400 PHP / in the basic guesthouses. Casa Miranda near San Juan seems to be the cheapest option with rooms starting at PHP250 / US$5.60 and rooms with kitchen facilities & fridge for PHP50., JJs is PHP350 / US$7.80 for a dorm (they have private rooms, too). Bruce’s, one of the places I looked at, seemed very nice and had a 4-person room for PHP1,800. Czars is PHP500 / US$11.33 per night.

Special thanks also to Carla for suggesting Siquijor to me.siquijor beach***

It seems like little tarsiers don’t like being talked about and didn’t allow comments on my post about them. You can now share your thoughts on tiny gremlin-like creatures and breast-shaped hills.

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Where to stay in Galle, Sri Lanka: Villa Templeberg

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I was sitting on the comfortable bright orange sofa right underneath the three terrace windows that were looking out into the lush green tropical gardens. Two dogs were lazing on the front lawn, and the only noise I could hear came from some lizards that were sunbathing on the stones by the pool and some monkeys further away. No tuktuks, no people, only the sounds of nature. Villa Templeberg was exactly what I needed  – the perfect place to get away from it all.villa templebergThirty minutes earlier, I had still been on the overcrowded train from Colombo to Galle, and now I felt like I was miles away from civilization. One of the villa’s staff had picked me up at the train and as we left the bustling train station area in Galle and headed out of town, I started to relax. I knew that the villa was sitting on a 5-acre coconut plantation, perched on top of a hill in the middle of the jungle, not much around it. This was exactly what I was craving after a few busy days in Sri Lanka’s capital, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to catch up on writing some articles and reflect on the TBCasia conference I had just attended.Villa templebergVilla Templeberg is a small B&B, even though not right on the beach, just a quick 10-minute tuktuk ride from Unawatuna and from Galle, both located on the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka. The property has only six rooms, four of them in the main building and two set in a smaller building behind the villa. The small size gives Templeberg an exquisite feel, and it is possible to rent out the entire villa, which sleeps up to 11 people. Sri Lanka Villa Templeberg near GalleI was staying in the Saffron Room, which used to be the dining room of the Dutch-colonial villa when it was still the estate of a working coconut plantation, as it used to be when it was built more than 200 years ago. Now, the spacious master suite comes with a king-size four-poster bed with a canopied mosquito net, a sofa and a small table, and a walk-in closet. Walking through the closet brings you to an even more spacious bathroom (seriously, I have stayed in hotel rooms that were smaller than the bathroom of the Saffron!), complete with a double sink and a big rainwater shower, all held in a simple yet stylish design.villa templeberg bathroom sinkI had two nights at Templeberg, but I immediately wanted to extend my stay. Right outside the room there was a small porch with another sitting area, and the main entrance to the villa which led to the other rooms, the dining area, a lounge and a study, another veranda with chairs and a table, and the backyard around which the villa is set. All of this was surrounded by hundreds of coconut palm trees.Villa Templeberg Sri LankaThe villa, which used to be the private estate of a German family until the late 2000s, was bought by Australian couple Brent and Chris and his mother Karen, and turned into a B&B in 2012. I loved that most of the antique Sri Lankan furniture and art have been retained, which contributes to the feeling of time standing still here – even though the villa has all modern amenities you could ask for, Templeberg has managed to keep the rustic character of the colonial estate alive that it used to be for so long.Sri Lanka Villa TemplebergThe next morning, I was in for another treat: the home-made breakfast. Local chef Trixie prepared a wonderful Sri Lankan breakfast with Sri Lankan egg hoppers (one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had anywhere in the world), fresh tropical fruits and Sri Lankan tea, all of which filled me up for the entire day.Villa Templeberg Breakfast

I spent my days at Templeberg mainly sitting on the terrace, writing up my conference notes, drafting articles, or chatting with Karen, the on-site host, and Lucy, the writer-in-residence who was spending a month in the ‘Writer’s Bungalow’ in the back. Speaking of which: the Villa is the ideal place for a Writer’s Retreat, something I will keep in mind for the future considering renting the entire villa starts at only $300 per night, depending on the season and the length of the stay. But even just by myself I’d be happy to return for a longer period of time, using the tranquil setting to write undisturbed. With beaches and Galle so close, I would still be able to get my occasional beach day and the amenities of a city.villa templeberg sri lanka galle

Stand out features

The swimming pool

Even though I haven’t seen it yet – construction had only started during my stay at the Villa – I have to mention the swimming pool which is due to open soon. A 25 meter (82 feet) long swimming pool right in these lush green gardens – could there be a more perfect place to lounge by the pool in the scorching heat of Sri Lanka? I don’t think so, and I’ll have to visit Templeberg again the next time I’m in Sri Lanka, just to see that pool, and maybe take a dip.Sri Lanka Villa Templeberg GalleThe atmosphere at the villa

I simply loved the serene atmosphere at the villa which evoked the charm and romance of a bygone era and made it easy to shake off the strains of the stressful conference and whirlwind tour of Sri Lanka that I had just finished. I loved the tranquility and solitude, and that there was nothing to distract me from relaxing entirely and forget the world around me.Villa templeberg

Room for improvement

The bathrooms

I checked out a couple of the other rooms during my stay and noticed that the bathrooms were not nearly as nice as the bathroom in the Saffron Room in which I was staying – I would love to see them upgraded as well; but considering that the villa is improving constantly, I am sure that it is only a question of time until these bathrooms reach the same standard as the one in the Saffron Room.

Villa Templeberg bathroom and furniture
The fabulous new bathroom of the Saffron room

More information on the area

I was only told about the nearby Kuduruduwa Temple and some other attractions the afternoon before I left, which meant I didn’t have time left to visit them. I wish I would’ve been told about them earlier, or that a folder with information on what there is to do and see in the area would have been placed in each room. I have always appreciated these folders in B&Bs I stayed at, which usually contain information on good nearby restaurants and bars, attractions and other useful tips.Villa templeberg

Overall

Villa Templeberg is the perfect base if you are looking for an intimate, quiet getaway but still want to close to fabulous restaurants, beaches and the UNESCO site of Galle Fort as well as the beach town of Unawatuna. No matter if you are a solo traveler in need of a peaceful oasis in Sri Lanka, a couple looking for some privacy or girlfriends who are ready for a few days of doing nothing other than lounging by the pool with a good book and a glass of wine, get massages and completely unwind, Templeberg will not disappoint.Villa Templeberg Saffron Room

Details

Location: Babaragoda Road off Akuressa Road, Loressakanda, Wanchaawala, Kaduruduwa Southern Province, Galle, Sri Lanka, 80120
Price: Starting at $95 per double room per night, $300 – $500 per night for the entire villa (can accommodate up to 11 people)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
If wi-fi would be more reliable.
Amenities: Breakfast included in room rate, free wi-fi, swimming pool, tuktuk service, massage room, verandas and gardens with sun chairs, airport transfer possible, half-board possible, free laundry, tour guide bookable
Website: templeberg.com or you can follow Villa Templeberg on Facebookvilla templeberg sri lanka bungalow

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