Philippines, Part II: Beach hut in Santander, Cebu Island

For the second part of our Philippines journey, we escaped city life to find solace at Nick’s aunt’s nipa hut on the beach. We traveled three hours in a little van along a continuous stretch of coastline to Santander, the southernmost tip of Cebu island. My knuckles were nearly white from gripping my seat through the tumultuous drive, during which we shared the road with animals, pedestrians, and various open “vehicles” with no regard for traffic rules. The scenery beyond my window definitely helped, though.

Carefree children playing outside their homes:
After getting dropped off at our destination, we hiked briefly through a jungle of sorts before reaching signs of inhabitants, as indicated by tethered cows, goats, pigs, and other livestock. Here I am in my travel OOTD – Nick’s tee (had to conserve my one and only outfit on the trip) and my sexy JanSport knapsack from middle school (conveniently left behind in China back then, now suddenly useful):
Upon arriving at the nipa hut, the simple beauty of it all took my breath away. This picture captures the essence of our stay…the basic structure of the home, the wooden boats lounging on the shore, the forlorn stray dog, and the proximity to the serene ocean. The only things missing are the pesky chickens.

The original base of the hut got washed away a decade ago, and was replaced with cement:
One of my first naive questions was how stuff doesn’t get stolen from the home with roll-up walls. Nick’s aunt gave a little chuckle and responded “There’s nothing to steal…”
Activities during day-to-day hut life included snorkeling (but there sure were a lot of sea urchins) and rowing in a “banca” boat. It was my first time snorkeling and I was easily fascinated by all the starfish down under. Unfortunately, I panicked each time a little water got inhaled/leaked in and thrashed uncontrollably at the urchins.
We did quite a bit of laundry due to our light packing. Below left: Washing clothes by the water tap, keenly keeping a side eye out for the aggressive chickens who walked around like they owned the place. Although they roamed freely, they each had a little leg tag marking the family whom they belonged to. Below right: The “dining” gazebo doubled as a clothes line.
As much as I’d like to say I transitioned to this way of life seamlessly, one of the biggest surprises to me were cold showers. The first night, I stood in the bathroom for a good ten minutes twisting the water knobs in every combo possible before asking for help – and being met with amused smiles. 

I loved tagging along with Nick’s aunt to buy meals. The muddy coolers by the side of the road served as storefronts for fishing families. Salted and then grilled, these were satisfying with rice.


The neighboring homes:

The volume of stray dogs in the Philippines broke my heart. It’s not something we see often where we live, but it was prevalent at every turn during this trip.

Are you my mommy? …no…


Are you my mommy?

As one would expect, this water-surrounded area was largely a fishing village. We observed numerous small boats going out at dawn, manned by bronzed fishermen with nets swung over their shoulders. Nick and I stood out like ghosts in comparison ; )

Fishermen pulled up outside our hut with the morning’s catch. One came and handed a friendly offering through our open walls:


The incredibly vibrant colors, a theme throughout this trip:


Living in the States, I love my share of processed and fast food. It felt different being so close to our meals. Seeing Juanita (the household helper) harvest plants and grab a squawker from the yard, then being served chicken and veggie stew a few hours later, was strangely startling to me.

Juanita preparing dinner (gift from the fishermen, also present):


The main road was more lively and lined with storefronts and vendors. I was so pleased to find one of my biggest guilty pleasures, fried chicken, to be plentiful throughout the Philippines. Locals would scoot up to this stand in mopeds and exchange coins for a tasty snack. I couldn’t help but indulge as well! The chopped up crispy-skinned pork was also delicious.
Cooling off by the main road with Coke in refillable bottles.
Nick has told me of so many fond memories from his aunt’s hut, such as napping lazily on the open porch, dodging sea urchins in the ocean, and eagerly waiting for the beach side vendors selling mangoes and sweet sticky rice. It felt wonderful for me to experience some of these things from his childhood. I have to thank his family for an incredible, authentic experience which I could not have had as a mere tourist.


Thank you for reading and for letting me share my travels with you!

71 thoughts on “Philippines, Part II: Beach hut in Santander, Cebu Island

  • Ella Pretty Blog August 22, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Thanks for sharing – all that fresh food looks so good! Too funny about the aggressive chickens LOL!

  • Danielle August 22, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Fantastic post! This was so interesting to read. It really looks beautiful. What a great way to get to know your bf's family πŸ™‚

  • toni August 22, 2012 at 12:42 am

    im glad you got to enjoy the beauty of the philippines. we aren't a very rich country, but we make do with what we got πŸ™‚ i bet the vendors were all staring at you and nick because of your pale complexion in comparison to the filipinos, haha! thanks for sharing

  • Mary Ann August 22, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Wow, Jean – this is amazing! As much as I've traveled, it's always been to touristy destinations (except my aunt's in London). I find it so cool that you were able to enjoy such an authentic experience. I would love to do something like this one day, but I can't imagine going without a local. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, my David is a from a small town in Mexico (I've only been to Cancun and the like). Hopefully I'll get to experience something as remote as this! πŸ˜‰

  • Guia August 22, 2012 at 12:45 am

    I haven't been back to the Philippines in a couple of years, I'm missing it thanks to your pictures! Looks like a blast! Great to be included with the homeland family haha

  • Micho38 August 22, 2012 at 12:45 am

    I like food and travel posts!

  • Abby August 22, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Thanks for sharing. I need to be reminded how other people live from time to time.

  • AlethM August 22, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Great post Jean! Appreciating the simple things in life πŸ™‚

  • Sabrina August 22, 2012 at 1:27 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Sabrina August 22, 2012 at 1:28 am

    What an awesome post! I really love reading travel blogs and I loved your well-written commentary as well. I'm going to Beijing in October and I'm a little apprehensive because I've never traveled out of the United States before, but your Philippines/China travel posts were so much fun to read and informative as well!

    I especially love the vibrant photos of the unique simplicity of the village. I'm pretty much one of the biggest city women ever, but sometimes it's just good to get away from everything for a more rural, basal escape. πŸ™‚


  • grace August 22, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Amazing experience Jean – I loved reading this and seeing raw photos – the simple joys of life πŸ™‚

  • Mere M. August 22, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! This post was wonderful and the pictures were gorgeous and so lively!

  • mayaari August 22, 2012 at 1:39 am

    amazing photos, and I'm so happy to hear you had a good time in the Philippines πŸ™‚ It's been 7 years since I was last there (if you ever get a chance to go there for Christmas, it's truly another experience!) and I miss everything about it. Did you end up using a tabo for your shower (filling a bucket with water and using a smaller bucket to pour water over you)? It was something I have to get used to whenever I go back, but it's oddly refreshing when the weather is hot & humid!

  • tarepanda August 22, 2012 at 2:18 am

    Hi Jean! I've been reading your blog for the past 2 years and I've never commented *sigh…but, I loved this post so much. I got the visit the Philippines many times for work but have never been to Cebu. Your photos remind me how much I miss everything about the country and have to get back there for a visit to Cebu. Thanks for the great post!!! πŸ™‚ ~ Kelly

  • Paris B August 22, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Oh I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I haven't been to the Philippines despite it being one of our closest neighbours (I'm in Malaysia) and this tells me perhaps I should visit, if just once πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  • SewPetiteGal August 22, 2012 at 2:46 am

    This is such a beautiful post through and through. Thank you for sharing your trip with us – I feel like I actually got to experience it through your words and photos. For the past 4 years, my mommy duties (being either pregnant or baby rearing) have kept me mostly homebound so I enjoy reading about the travels of others. πŸ™‚

  • AubreyOhDang! August 22, 2012 at 3:02 am

    you write so well, i feel like i'm reading a novel! gosh what an experience! i must go one day to the PI!

  • Stephanie Lam August 22, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Love your photos! It looks like so much fun!!


  • CaseyCakes August 22, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Wow, hope you enjoyed your stay! πŸ™‚

  • Demmy August 22, 2012 at 5:06 am

    I'm sure you had an amazing time. These pictures are absolutely beautiful. Love the hut and everything. It breaks my heart to see the dogs too an I wish I could have one of them for myself. x

  • perkynewmom August 22, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Jean, thanks for marketing my beloved country. Being Nick's girl, and experiencing Cebu, you're one of us! πŸ™‚

  • Miss.Adventure August 22, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Wow! This reminds me of my stay in the Philippines and eating Pinoy food. I stayed on the island of Palawan, in Sabang. I think there are amazing spots to be discovered in the Philippines.

  • Richa Tiwari August 22, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Wow, such an enjoyable read with such lovely photos. This place seems so idyllic, the perfect place to get away and rejuvanate! Thanks for sharing!

  • minnie August 22, 2012 at 7:51 am

    amazing blog post, jean

  • My Dressy Ways August 22, 2012 at 8:42 am

    What an amazing trip and experience! You realize how much we take for granted here in the states! Thank you for sharing your pictures and experience!

  • Samantha August 22, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Glad you shared all of this!

  • phiphis blog August 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

    i loved this post Jean – the pictures and descriptions are so wonderful. i could almost smell the fish grilling. the poor puppy pictures broke my heart. thank you for sharing these travels – it looks like it was such a wonderful life experience. xox P

  • Janki August 22, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Amazing! I've never been to the Phillipines, but your travel journal reminds me so much of visiting India as a kid. It made me excited about going back, this time with my own family. Wonderful post. Your writing is just so descriptive and expresses your personality so well. I had to giggle at the "white knuckle" comment and the cold water showers. As a kid, I didn't have enough knowledge to be aware of the unsafe vehicle conditions, but even now I vividly remember the bathing situation. Our family always had a maid and she kindly would boil a small vessel of water for us to mix with the room temperature water to make a "warm" shower.
    One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking these types of vacations enough when I was in the early stages of my career (pre-kids). I was always fooled into being that "hard worker" and never really exhausted my vacation. Now, I barely remember those jobs but would have remembered those great vacation memories.

  • Miss Xu August 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Sounds like you had an amazing time!

  • The Petite Edition August 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Beautiful pictures. Looks like an amazing trip filled with wonderful memories! That poor puppy, though! Another wonderful post.

  • Katherine August 22, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I love your travel posts. The Philippines looks so amazing and I'd love to go there one day – the dogs are prevalent in Thailand as well and it is very sad πŸ™

    What did you think of the Manila airport? I had to pass through one time for work….not a fan! Apparently it's one of the worst in the world!

  • Joanna Le August 22, 2012 at 11:06 am

    What an amazing post! The photos are simply breathtaking.

  • Danielle H. August 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    You finally posted the second leg of your Philippines Trip! Thank you so much, Jean! It was a very pleasant distraction from studying for my upcoming GMAT test in less than 48 hours. Congratulations btw on your CFA success! Now all you need is that brand new business card with those three letters after your name! :]

    Again, I love this post!

  • girly girl August 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you so much for this post Jean! I was born and raised in the Philippines too so this post gives me fond memories growing up in the province.

  • newpetite August 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Beautiful pictures! The hut looks beautiful and its awesome when you get to experience the local stuff which we as tourists rarely get to do. Sadly, the dogs are prevalent in India as well. I have many Phillipino friends and they fondly describe about their country and other stuff. I have to show your post to them now πŸ™‚

  • styledsurprises August 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Next time, make a trip to Sri Lanka, you'll be able to take 100s of pictures… I am a big enough fan to give you my soon to be vacant home to stay:)

  • Pettit Mom August 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Great Post πŸ™‚

  • Arts August 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    lovely post and Nick look so beautiful together…

  • Anonymous August 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Wow this looks like a trip of a lifetime. Love that fish photo


  • Jessica @ Here(and)Now August 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    wow, what an amazing and unique experience. When traveling I often try to see out the authentic, non-touristy experiences… and you got that above and beyond. So fascinating seeing the culture in other corners of the world! Thank you so much for sharing

  • LoveStyleHappiness August 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Wow! those are some beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It totally shows us life from a local's perspective.


  • Jade August 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I visited the Philippines 2 years ago and it was an amazing trip. Yeah, I agree when visiting other countries, I like to experience the authentic culture; especially the food. I too was amazed at the large amounts of stray dogs. It was sad. It was interesting that the dogs didn't bother the "humans" though. They pretty much stayed to themselves. Lovely pictures!

  • lin August 22, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    looks like you had a wonderful time. thanks for sharing. you write so well along with the pictures, very detailed and expressive that we could imagine almost being there too!

  • fabulouslyfrugirl August 22, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing your travels and your pictures of beautiful Philippines.

    As much as I love to travel, I've only been able to experience a handful of experiences where it was more authentic and less touristy. So happy for you to experience these experiences and great memories with Nick :).

  • strapple August 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Philippines looks like an amazing place. Definitely on my travel list! Would like to know which parts of the Philippines you would recommend.


  • Suzie Q August 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Looked like a wonderful trip and experience. The photos are beautiful, and I adore the captions for the dogs!! So cute!

    Suzie Q

  • Tina del Rosario August 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Santander is beautiful <3 We used to go there all the time when we were kids because my mom's from there, and we may have to go back!

  • realnchicmom August 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Awesome post! I'm originally from the Philippines but moved to US at a young age…sad to say that you've been to more remote parts of Phil than I have. Thanks for sharing…makes me want to go for a visit.

  • The Little Dust Princess August 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. : ) Even though I eat meat, I'd have a hard time eating something that I only saw alive a few hours ago. You did a good job being able to experience that!

  • Michelle August 22, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    That is awesome that you got to experience the Philippines as you did! I would love living so close to the ocean and fresh food! Those stray animals would drive me nuts, too! Poor things!

    And I second Aubrey…loved your writing…I felt as if I was reading an intimate story.

  • Anonymous August 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    You might find this pretty weird but I know exactly where the first photo was taken – it was in Boljo-on, Cebu, right? Though my siblings and I were raised in Naga City (south of Manila, in Luzon), my mom grew-up in Boljo-on. My parents used to take us there every school break so we could get in touch with our cousins from Cebu.

    I've moved here in the US in 1995 and I've been back a few times to see my mom who still lives in Luzon, but never really found the time to visit Cebu. Looking at your photos brought back memories – me playing with my cousins on the beach, me taking cold showers, and me staring at the "hill" shown in the photo. Thanks for sharing…

  • With Each Passing Day August 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Beautiful pictures and post. Thank you for sharing your travel with us.

  • dianeang August 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Hi! Jean went to Cebu but I recommend for you to go to Palawan if you want to visit the Philippines πŸ™‚ Coron, Puerto Princesa(where you can find the Underground River, a world heritage site), & El Nido. If you have some cash to burn though, I suggest Amanpulo Resort πŸ™‚

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Is that person in "Picture 3" by any chance wearing a Boston University basketball t-shirt?

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Hi Jean! I've been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first time commenting. I enjoyed your Philippines posts immensely. My husband and I reside in Texas currently, but he is from Cebu – we actually had our wedding there this past February. I was fortunate enough to spend time on the beach, and a few days in the city as well. It was fun reading about the Philippines from the POV of another Chinese girl. I'm looking forward to more travel posts!

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for this delightful post of Cebu. Cebu is one of the larger islands that not many people inside the US had heard of, since Bohol's chocolate hills and Manila's capital is the most well-known. When I have traveled to Cebu, my outfits weren't really anything special — baggy tee and shorts. Could you let us know some great island getaway outfits that are heat friendly? The towns outside of the city provide a wonderful fresh and relaxing feeling, since it's more cooler at night. But the city is way too hot and somewhat humid.

  • lapeace August 23, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Hello πŸ™‚

    today I found your blog and I have to tell oyu something:

    You are the most beautiful women I have ever seen!
    I looked at all you posted otfits, and you are getting better and better and better…

    Thank you so much for your inspiration!
    For private it is too "business" for me, but for my work it is wonderful!

    Thank you, honey!
    I will follow you!


  • Ana August 23, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I love your travel posts! I love to travel and love a mix of tourist and local experiences. You just sold me on the Phillipines. We are adding that to our list of places we need to visit!

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Hi Jean! It's great that you opt to stay at the kubo and not in some 5-star resort. All those glamorous hotels and resorts do not reflect the real situation in the Philippines. Glad you enjoyed the trip! πŸ™‚

  • NJblog August 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Great post! I grew up in Thailand and it seems like food culture is very similar…I terribly miss the mangoes and sticky rice, fried chicken stands, refreshing drinks off the street (especially the ones in little plastic bags). It made me very homesick indeed πŸ™‚

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us. Now I want to go traveling.

    Warm regards,

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    I totally lol about your comment about the cold shower. I remember asking my mom why do they have two knobs for their shower if choices are cold and very cold haha! But I really enjoyed your posts it's nice that you had a different experience and not the typical supposed 5 star tourist trap locations.

  • Anonymous August 23, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    OMG. Best. Post. Ever. Or at least top 5. My second comment ever and I love this. I can identify with the stray dogs, cold showers, roadside stands and yummy fresh food(it's similar to where I am originally from)

  • what.jess.wore August 24, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Loved this post Jean. I need to pack light like you when I go on vacation. Honestly, it doesn't matter what you wear when you visit family and enjoy the simpler things in life.

    P.S. That's my chicken. πŸ˜‰

  • Fabulous Petite August 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you Jean for sharing this with us. Kudos to Nick for sharing his childhood memories with you. Even though he lives in US now but he never forgets his roots and his heritage.


  • MizzJ August 25, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Thanks for sharing your trip photos! You're so lucky to have gotten to see the real Phillipines and not just the tourist traps, although the cold showers and constant laundry might be something I wouldn't mind miss out on lol

  • lisacng August 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Kind of a wonderful escape to a simpler life! Love the doggie narratice!

  • FASHIONBUG August 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    i live in the united states now but im from cebu,philippines.. im so happy to see your post

  • Anonymous September 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Love your blog! What type of crossbody are you using here? It looks like the perfect size for travel.

  • Anonymous June 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    hi im sharing this post on my fb page. Thanks! I love the way you write btw!

  • Anonymous June 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    hi im sharing this post on my fb page..thanks! I love the way you write btw!

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