Miscellaneous Info I
Western Union: Have locations in Santa Fe, Bantayan Town and in Madridejos, and XOOM.com online money transfers can also be picked up in PHP Pesos at ML Huillier in Santa Fe, which also offers other ML Kwarta money sending/receiving services.
Expect a Western Union agent to request & and keep a Xerox copy of your Passport or other ID for their files - give them a low-res black & white copy, and they'll also take your thumb-prints - DO NOT give them your hi-res color copy of your Passport or ID (which is a hi-res copy to ID yourself when in a foreign country, in case your original document is lost or stolen)
LBC is a local/international package shipper and sends/receives money (Philippine Pesos) for you within the Philippines at very inexpensive rates (i.e. friends in Cebu or Manila, etc. can go to an LBC office there and send you Pesos, and vice/versa)
LBC is centrally located in Bantayan Town, off the Plaza’s eastern corner - next to the local HONDA sales & repair center, near St. Peter & Paul's Church.
A new ATM machine is available outside the Allied Bank in Bantayan Town, for VISA/MasterCard (CIRRUS Network & others)
Fairbank is also located in Talisay, Santa Fe - but has no ATM.
In Bantayan Town, Peipings Restaurant rents a large Mercedes Benz passenger van: P1,500 for 10 hours (rental office open 8am to 5pm)
During Holy Week a few hotels can organize van rentals for larger groups.
* Mobile phone: VERY IMPORTANT! (Philippine GSM cell phone with local SIM/number)
Even if it’s your first trip to the Philippines and you don’t think you’ll actually need one, get one and call it an insurance policy - program it with your hotel manager’s number, your Family numbers, local Police & Embassy numbers, and just keep it with you in case you run into an emergency here. Remember to keep a good pre-paid LOAD on it.
The first time you find yourself suddenly ill and in need of immediate medical attention, you’ll be glad you had your cell phone with a full charge, and a decent load on it.
* light clothing for hot weather (dress code here is very casual; t-shirts & shorts)
* sunscreen (buy it before you get here, it‘s expensive in Philippines when you can find it in the cities; aprox. $10 for a 4 ounce bottle of Coppertone) and insect repellant - some people seem to need it and some don't.
* GOOD name brand sunglasses (I personally wear Serengeti STRATUS) - the sun's very strong here, so don't wear cheap sunglasses that only open your eyes more to the burning sun, and don’t ride your motor without glasses of some sort.
* hats, caps (buy them here in the markets for cheap)
* bottled water - there’s plenty of it here, so no worries.
* pace yourself during the day - you can get into heat exhaustion in this weather before you know you're in trouble, so take it easy on the really hot days & drink plenty of fluids; maybe take an afternoon nap.
* getting drunk or drinking lots of beer will dehydrate you faster in this weather, so pace yourself. (beer & alcohol are cheap & plentiful here in Philippines)
* comfortable footwear - off road the footing can be treacherous, and you can twist an ankle easily, so make sure you're not wearing cheap footwear.
...on the other hand, all I wear are local sandals for P30 a pair, or my Islander slippers (sturdier) for P200 a pair, so if you live in your sandals this is the place to be.
* Personal Security Tip - Flashlights: bring the BEST ones, with plenty of spare batteries as batteries bought here in Philippines are expensive garbage - leave your wimpy lights and non-dependable, low power AA & D-Cell Alkaline batteries at home, and purchase the best made lights for harsh Tropical environments that use the more dependable & powerful Lithium 123 batteries, before you get here.
SureFire Model 9P (105 lumens brightness) $95USD - SureFire Model G2 LED/nylon polymer body (80 lumens/12hrs. run time) $69USD - SureFire Model E1L Outdoorsman: 45 & 3 lumen, 2 stage LED - 8.5hrs. total run time. $139USD
I personally use & recommend SureFire Brand high power flashlights powered by 3-volt lithium CR123 type batteries - even better are their new LED hi-power lights with much longer run times - their lights are small & compact, and throw more blinding light than the old D-Cell MagLites that are half the size of a baseball bat.
New SureFire LED Lights 2009: My current favorite SureFires above are the new polymer bodied $69/USD G2LED (middle in the image above) which throws 80 lumens of beautiful pure WHITE light for about 12hrs total light/9hrs tactical level light, but that small aluminum E1L ($139/USD) you see above in my hand throws more bright light for aprox. 8.5 hours + from its "little" 45/3 lumen LED than I ever thought possible on one battery - it's my current favorite and you really have to handle & use one to fully appreciate its capabilities when traveling.
You’ll appreciate having a dependable, aircraft aluminum, weather sealed 65 to 100+ lumen high power flashlight the first time you’re out at dusk on the back roads and get a flat tire on your motorbike, or run out of gas, or if a brownout/power outage occurs when a TYPHOON passes just south of Manila/Luzon Province, or just out sightseeing around 6pm out on the back roads of the little villages here, and just lighting your way back to your room or cottage, etc.
We’ve had 3 Typhoons blow through Philippines & Bantayan Island from November 2006 through January 2007; a few brownouts during Winter 2008/2009, and the only light available around me through those power outages came from my SureFires.
Remember - towns, properties and streets here are either under lit, poorly lit, or not lit at all - so I use my SureFires daily here on Bantayan Island.
My small SureFires even lit up downed power lines on the roads, and fallen trees on the back roads & in town, when my Landlord & I were out reporting the damage to the Mayor and to the power company after the Typhoons hit. (try getting that accomplished with small low power AA battery flashlights in Typhoon winds & blinding rain; it won't happen)
I’ve personally used these tools for years working in Celebrity/VIP Protection & Special Events, and SureFire lights are used by Police SWAT and Hostage Rescue teams the world over & they also supply many Elite Military Units (Marines, Army Rangers, Navy SEAL teams, GSG9, etc) with the best built, mission-critical lights money can buy, period.
Dependable, rugged, weather-sealed, and especially well engineered for harsh Tropical environments - priced at $36.00 to $179.00+ and worth every penny - I take 4 SureFire lights to the Philippines & whenever I travel; using 2 and keeping 2 as a backup.
Philippine Mobile Phones
* Pre Paid Phone cards are available on Bantayan Island
In Santa Fe, SMART & Globe Pre Paid Cards (and 'E'Loads) are available at RIVMAR Pharmacy & other locations.
Filipinos live on their mobile phones with pre-paid calling cards, they’re not very expensive & relatively cheap to use, and you can buy or rent one before coming to Bantayan Island (purchase your mobile phones on the mainland in Cebu as the selection on the Island is limited)
Even if it’s your first trip to the Philippines and you don’t think you’ll actually need one, get one anyway and call it an insurance policy - program it with your hotel manager’s number, local Police & Embassy numbers, and just keep it with you in case you run into an emergency here.
You can rent one from your local hotel in Manila or Cebu like I did on my first trip in 2003 - it was a few dollars a day, and at the end of my trip I just bought it from my Manila hotel (Nokia model 3315 at $60USD in 2003)
My current phone is a 3 year old Nokia 6822 with a flip open keyboard to make texting faster for me - I got it in the USA from a store selling 'open line' unlocked GSM mobile phones, so any open line (‘open line’ will work with any SIM from any service provider) unlocked GSM phone will work in Philippines, you don't have to buy your phone here - but since phones purchased in Philippines have all the correct current settings for the specific networks here, I'd recommend getting one here.
Just go into the Malls in Manila or Cebu and buy the phone of your choice, new in box (you can spend P5,000 to P30,000 and up, depending on the model & features)
Recon/refurbished phones are also available if you know where to find them, at prices starting around P2,500/P3,000 & up - I've bought several of these phones over the years for the poor Families I help in Manila & Cebu, and a good sturdy Nokia recon phone will last quite a while (Nokia models specifically 3210, 3310 & 3315)
Then, get yourself a SIM card for P150 on the SMART or Globe network (SMART is the #1 provider in Philippines, with Globe a close 2nd) - on your SIM card is your mobile number, and memory to store your phonebook entries & more.
A prepaid phone card is P300 (P100 & P500 cards are also available) and will buy you a LOT of texting, as Filipinos mostly just text on their phones, at P1 per text - it's also free to receive all texts on your phone, and even if your friends have no load on their phones they can still receive your texts and your calls for free (the person you’re calling or texting does not need to have a load on their phone to get your calls &/or texts)
You can also direct dial all your international calls from your Philippine mobile phone.
"phone loads" or 'loads' are available everywhere, from cities to remote areas you can always manage to find a sari-sari store for an electronic "e-load" of P10, P20, P30, P60, P115 or more, so even if you don't have money for a P300 phone card you can always afford some sort of e-load.
You can even share the load you have on your phone, with a friend in Philippines who needs a load - it's called Pasa Load, and on the SMART network you just create a text with the person's phone number ex. 0921XXXXXXX, leave a space, key in the amount you want to send them, and send to 808
* So your text would look like this, if I was Pasa loading you P10 from my phone: 0921XXXXXXX 10 and after sending it to 808, you'd get a text confirming the load you just sent, along with your current balance, and your friends will be able to text you back now.
International texts will cost you P22.50 per text, Philippines to USA for example.
If your GSM mobile phone is a modern tri-band or quad-band phone, it can roam on networks outside the Philippines, so you can take your new cell phone home with you when you leave Bantayan, to make & receive texts from Philippines in your country. (older dual band phones like the recon's I mentioned above are not able to roam internationally)
* Phones on Int’l roaming were never able to make or receive calls, only texts - but this has just changed as of July 25, 2007.
Phones on the SMART Network in Philippines can now make & receive phone calls on the T-Mobile Network in the USA, providing Int’l Roaming has been activated, text “ROAM ON USA” [without the quotes] to 333 at the following prices:
Dialed Calls: P120 per minute
Received Calls: P80 per minute
Dial +63 plus the 10 digit number
SMART suggests: “Please keep at least P500 balance for seamless voice service”
Your phones’ SIM card (a small memory chip) needs to be activated for international roaming (via a single text message) right before you leave the Philippines - so what I do at the airport is this:
I make sure I load one or two P300 SMART prepaid cards before I go to the airport, and right before I board the plane I send my last text, which activates international text only roaming, and I type ROAM (space) ON and I send it to 333 - it'll look like this:
Then just send it to 333 and you'll get a receipt text stating "thank you for using SMART'S service - pre paid roaming will be activated in a few minutes"
* You must have a MINIMUM balance of at least P100 on your phone, in order to use the SMART Int’l Roaming feature.
At this point I shut off my phone & board the plane - after I land in the USA I turn on my phone, and now the SIM knows to seek out a US carrier that SMART has roaming agreements with, so it quickly finds either a Cingular or T-Mobile mobile signal, and any texts that have been sent to my phone since I left Philippines will now be received, and I can begin replying to them at P22.50 per text (the fee has increased from P20 in July 2007) , all the more reason to have a good size load on your phone before you leave Philippines.
Conversely, if you’re flying into the Philippines from the USA or elsewhere and you have your Philippine mobile phone with you (on roaming of course) - roaming needs to be de-activated right before you get on the plane, by simply sending a text to 333 that says ROAM OFF (“roam (space) off”)
After you get your de-activation text receipt, just shut off your phone & board your plane.
After you land in Philippines, turn your phone on and it’ll pick up the local SMART network signal, and you can begin texting again for P1 per text.
Online Phone & Load Card Vendors:
* If you're in the USA and NEED a SIM card, or a phone - I use & recommend:
www.manilaforwarder.com in Los Angeles 1-800-210-1019 - ask for Christine & she'll take care of you.
* if you're in the USA and need a SMART/Globe or Sun Cellular LOAD for your phone, I use & recommend www.myayala.com
myayala.com have the best prices on SMART & Globe pre-paid P300 cards at a minimal service charge. (I've seen other online vendors selling P300 cards for as much as P500 & up) They processes your online credit card order and then send the calling cards PIN number, right to your email so you can load your phone from the USA or other country.
* a good variety of phones is available from www.filgifts.com in Manila: their prices are reasonable - they'll even ship cell phones & other gifts to your friends in Philippines when you order online with your credit card.
Texting Philippine Mobile Phones From Your Computer:
CHIKKA Text Messenger is a free program and a quick download from www.chikka.com that lets you send 20 FREE texts per day from your computer to SMART numbers, and 30 FREE texts per day to GLOBE numbers - to your friends mobile phones in Philippines, and supports SMART, Globe, TM/Touch & Sun Cellular Mobile Networks.
Other Providers Supported:
USA: SPRINT, AT&T, Verizon, Altel, Nextel, Boost, Cingular.
DTAC (Thailand), Japan, 1528 SMART (Hong Kong), India Mobile Phones, Guamcell/Saipancell
UK, Spain, Excelcomindo, Smart Pinoy (Italy).
Install CHIKKA and it looks like a simple instant messaging program on your PC - you input those numbers you want to text into a message box, and you get 320 characters that will be sent to your friends mobile phones in Philippines, and they can reply back to you from their phone for only P2.50 per text, with their CHIKKA message popping up on your computer screen when they reply.
For each reply your friends send back to you, you get and additional free text credit - you can even send load to their phones through CHIKKA text, via a PayPal link from within the program.