Including allowed visa extensions, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration allows foreign tourists to stay a maximum of two years in the country. Having arrived in September 2010, my two years was just about up. Where to go?

USA: not ready (wanna finish my book first.)
Hong Kong: not interested. B-O-R-I-N-G.
Singapore: not interested. E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E.
Taiwan: not interested. Been there.
Kuala Lumpur: a little interested, but it's a very big city.
Kota Kinabalu: I keep hearing it's a nice place and close to the Philippines. I've never been to Malaysia, it's a provincial capital on the northeast coast of Borneo Island.


I found a cheap round-trip airfare to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, via Tiger Air. Guess that's my destination.
My self-imposed challenge: how cheaply can I do the entire trip?

Feryboat to Manila

September 9-10, 2012. 2GO (formerly SuperFerry) boat from Cebu to Manila.

aboard MV Saint Gregory

LIVESTOCK AREA. Just speculating here, but the Philippines may be the only country that provides staterooms for fighting cocks aboard ferryboats. FEEDING TIME allows bonding opportunities for cock owners with their feathered killers during the long voyage.

Livestock area

Flight to Malaysia

September 11, 2012.

I booked my ticket with Tiger Airways, a Singapore-based budget carrier. But the flight was aboard a SEAIR Airbus, from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (aka Clark Airport) in Pampanga to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Corregidor Island at the entrance to Manila Bay. It really is shaped like a tadpole.

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I took this aerial of the downtown area as we flew in. I've marked the approximate location of my hostel with an "X".

Borneo Gaya Lodge. Nice, quiet, clean hostel in the old downtown core.

Kota Kinabalu waterfront. I spent my three days mostly just strolling around town. "KK" as it's known is a clean and fairly laid-back city with a pretty seaside promenade.

AZLINA SULAWESI Indonesian restaurant quickly became my favorite place to eat in KK. Hot curries, yeah!

Roti lunch. Another memorable meal at Azlina Sulawesi: Roti (fried unleavened bread) stuffed with chicken and served with extra hot sauce, ice tea, cucumber salad and dal soup. To die for.

Pulau Gaya Island stilt village. The Lonely Planet Malaysia guidebook says: "the stilted village on Pulau Gaya Island.... mainly inhabited by Filipino refugees.... is generally considered a no-go area and it wouldn't be wise to hop in a boat and go exploring through the maze of rickety plankwalks there's every chance someone may be poor and desperate enough to relieve you of your valuables.
So of course right away I asked the receptionist at my hostel where I could get a boat going to Pulau Gaya Island. Well I think at the city market.... but..."
I did take the uncharacteristically cautious step of inquiring at the Sabah Tourism Office if they thought it might be safe to go there; the friendly woman at the desk said she thought that although the place is beyond the jursidiction of the local police, it was probably safe to visit. So downtown behind the Central Market I jumped into a small open boat which for 2 MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) took me and seven other passengers across the bay to Pulau Gaya where the boat idled while we climbed up onto the porch of one of the stilt houses. I wandered around gawking and snapping pictures and everybody was very friendly and a few even spoke Bisaya which allowed us to carry on some kind of conversations. I visited three stilt villages and clambered up to the top of the little peak at the south end of the island and after a few hours I was fully baked by the hot sun so I walked out to the end of a rickety pier and flagged down a passing boat and was swiftly delivered back to the market in Kota Kinabalu. Great half-day adventure, Uncle Chris sez check it out.

Bajau boys. My friendly tour guides in the Philippine stilt village. The Bajau, aka "sea gypsies", are an ethnic group traditionally from the islands of the (Philippines) Sulu Archipelago. Marginalized in the Philippines, many have migrated to Malaysia, fleeing ethnic violence in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.)

After a few days wandering around Kota Kinabalu, I rode a ...

Night flight back to Philippines

September 15, 2012.
Night-time.... couldn't see much.

A few days in Manila...

Can you tell from this photo I'm back in the Philippines already???

Park Vil-la Apartelle. I stayed at a new-to-me cheap hotel in Manila (actually, Quezon City.) It's right on Quezon Avenue and close to EDSA. Has a large courtyard with pools of goldfish and simple clean rooms. My fan room was only PHP400 per night, a bargain in the Megalopolis of Greater Manila. I hope to make this my new home-away-from-home in Manila.

Popular Bookstore. I stopped in to visit Dina Po, my prospective publisher at Popular Bookstore in Quezon City. She was not feeling well so we didn't meet, but I did chat with staff and picked up nine more books for my Philippine history collection (*This was way outside of my "Cheap Charlie Visa Run" budget*).

Wylz. I finally got to meet in person the artist making all the drawings for my, or should I say "our" book, Wylz Gutierrez. We met at Shangri-La Mall and had a nice chat.

Arnold in da Pilipines. I also met with my American buddy Gerry Arrington, who like me is living a happy early retirement, in Quezon City. Exercise aficionado and healthy eater, great guy.

Ferryboat back to Cebu

September 9-10, 2012. 2GO Ferries again. We were scheduled to leave Manila at 8pm but left the dock at 11:30pm.
That was OK with me, coz as usual.... I'm not on a tight schedule. This is Malapascua Island, a small gem at the north end of Cebu Island. We arrived in Cebu City 9:30 the next evening.

Thank-you, caretakers

I invited Honey Mae and Carl to stay in my Cebu apartment while I was gone. Everything seems OK, I'm grateful they took care of the place. I took them to ChowKing for lunch and then saw them off at South Terminal for their bus ride home to Carcar. Thanks!

Cheap Charlie's Trip Expenses (U.S. Dollars)

(I excluded the additional expenses of my three extra days in Manila.)


  • $3.33 Taxi to Pier 4, Cebu (PHP140)
  • $16.74 Ferryboat Cebu > Manila (PHP783)
  • $13.92 Manila Hotel (PHP585)
  • $3.33 Bus Manila > Angeles City (PHP140)
  • $38.57 Airplane Clark, Philippines > KK Malaysia (PHP1037)
  • $14.28 Clark Airport Terminal Fee (PHP600)
  • $24.57 Borneo Gaya Hostel, Kota Kinabalu three nights (MYR25/night = MYR75)
  • $93.00 Kota Kinabalu: food & misc expenses (MYR283)
  • $38.57 Airplane KK, Malaysia > Clark, Philippines (PHP1037)
  • $11.42 Hotel, Angeles City (PHP480)
  • $3.50 Bus Clark > Manila (PHP142)
  • $19.10 Ferryboat Manila > Cebu (PHP891)
  • $2.38 Taxi home (PHP100)
  • $282.71 Total