Category Archives: Travel Stories

Travel Stories: Whale Sharks at Oslob

After getting tired of the incessantly annoying touts of Panglao beach ruining the beauty of Bohol, I decided to hop on a boat and head back to Cebu, to see the whale sharks of Oslob.   Also, I had been traveling with two new friends I had met in Bohol, but after a couple days together, I felt the wind call out to me.  And so, I hopped on a boat from Panglao Beach, and headed back to Cebu, to the town of Oslob, to see the whale sharks.

Usually, to get from Panglao to Oslob, you would have to head back to Tagbilaran, take a boat to Cebu City, and then take a bus down to Oslob.  That would take quite a long time.  I found that instead, there are also boats that go out to see the whale sharks at oslob before returning to Panglao, so I just negotiated a one-way trip.  It required waking up for the 7AM boat, but the morning sight was worth it.
Oslob - sunrise boat

Of course, this being southeast Asia, we just sit on the boat for an hour and a half, waiting for…. something, before we set off.  Eh.  Most of us end up sleeping on the boat.
Oslob - sleeping on boat

After a couple hours, we finally reach Oslob!  Before coming, I had heard a lot of great things about Oslob, about how it’s guaranteed to see whale sharks here every day, that these are whale sharks out in the wild.  Which is true.  What they don’t tell you, is that they’re here every day because they’re fed every morning.  Not exactly wild, but close enough!
Oslob - swimming with whale sharks 1 Oslob - swimming with whale sharks 2

So the way it works here is, after paying for a ticket, you can board a small boat to go out and watch the whale sharks – or, to swim with them!  Most people just choose to float on the surface looking down (which is quite nice in itself), but since I had some freediving training, I was able to dive down to the bottom (not so deep, maybe 10 meters?), and look up at the whale sharks.

It’s a sight that I’m never going to forget.  The whale shark, a dark silhouette on the light blue waters.  Remora (sucker fish) swimming in formation along the belly of the whale shark, like helicopters hovering an aircraft carrier.  Sunbeams shining down through the crystal clear waters, perfectly framing the whale shark and its entourage.

When you watch National Geographic documentaries, you see these amazing scenes and wonder, is this real?  You go travel yourself, and see scenes that are almost good enough to be on National Geographic.  But occasionally, when your timing is just right, when the stars are aligned in your favor, you’ll find a scene that surpasses everything else.  And that was my experience here, freediving with the whale sharks at Oslob.

I didn’t bring my phone camera with me into the waters, so I don’t have any photos, but the following is courtesy of
Oslob whale sharks

Interlude: A Tale of Two Airports

Getting from Myanmar to the Philippines, I had a long, long trip.  First, as mentioned earlier, I took a night bus from Mandalay to Yangon.  A very nice bus, to be sure, but still a bus, and so I didn’t get much sleep.  Next, upon arriving in Yangon (at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere), I sat around for half the day waiting for my flight out – though I did rent a bike and take a while around for a bit first.

Getting to the airport to fly out, I’m not surprised by how shabby and low tech the building looks.  What does surprise me, is how tight security is.  I thought the TSA was bad enough, but the security team at Yangon seems to think that the terrorists have it out for Myanmar.

What I really didn’t expect, is for the power to go off – for half an hour!
Yangon airport - power outage

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Interlude: the Treachery of 7-11 Sandwiches

Introducing the 7-11 sandwich, available all throughout southeast Asia.  Looks good, doesn’t it?
Convenience store - sandwich unopened

Yet, if you buy it and open it up, this is what you get:
Convenience store - sandwich opened

You think you’re getting a nice big sandwich, filled with meats, lettuce, and cheese.  However, nothing but sadness and despair awaits you, as you open to find a hollowed out shell of a sandwich, with nothing but a facade of toppings.

And you sadly reflect upon your life.

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Interlude: Baseball Batting Cages

I’ve been to a baseball game before, and I know (roughly) how baseball works, but I’ve never actually played baseball. And so, I didn’t think that batting would be particularly hard. You see a ball coming towards you, hit the ball, and then run in a circle. Simple enough. I might even have a hidden talent, like that Japanese guy who can repeatedly slice baseballs in half. So with one of my cousins, I visited a batting cage. And thoroughly dashed my hopes of having a hidden talent for baseball.
Batting cage - batting 2

It’s kind of like Schrödinger’s cat.  Before going to a batting cage, I exist in a quantum state where I am both good at baseball and bad at baseball.  But then, when I open the box and actually try batting, my quantum state collapses and I’m either good or bad, but not both.  And I’m bad.  Really, really bad at batting.

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Interlude: Lion Dance

While staying with relatives in the Taipei area, I had the fortune of attending a college-level lion dance competition, and it was a pretty cool experience. For the uninitiated, the lion dance is the great Chinese cultural dance, representing…. something. I’m not sure. But in Chinatowns all around the world, there is certain to be a lion dance display for (Lunar) New Years. Basically, you’ve got two+ people in a lion costume, jumping around. It looks more impressive than it sounds.
Lion dance - dance 2

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Interlude: the Taiwan Railway Bento Box

When I think about Taiwan’s railways, I immediately think of the Taiwan Railway bento box / boxed lunch (台灣鐵路便當).  There’s nothing particularly special about these boxed lunches – no special ingredients, no special preparation, no special packaging.  But yet, they are surprisingly popular, and surprisingly delicious.  It tastes like comfort food.
Railway bento box - cheap 1

Inside, you’ve got some basic pork chops, pickled and boiled vegetables, and a broiled egg.  This basic lunch (or dinner) is very simple, and very cheap – just $2!  And for the fancy pants, there are also fancier boxed lunches, costing $3 for slightly more food.
Railway bento box - cheap 2

During lunchtime, massive crowds form to buy these boxed lunches.
Railway bento box - lining up

I found that they weren’t big enough to be a full lunch or dinner, but were quite nice as a snack to take the edge off my hunger for a couple of hours.  They’re especially convenient since you can not only buy the boxed lunches from onboard the trains, but also in most train stations, including Taipei Main Station.

While waiting for buses and trains at Taipei Main Station, I ate a great number of these delicious boxed lunches!

Interlude: Mass Wedding in Taipei

One of the reasons why I stopped in Taiwan, was to attend the wedding of one of my (countless) cousins. I had expected a traditional Chinese wedding (lots of ceremony, lots of relatives, lots of drinking), but it turned out to be a mass wedding! Mass wedding, meaning that 85 couples got married in one giant ceremony. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Wedding - mass wedding ready to begin 22

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