Phillippines with Igor
If you're not familiar what YVR Express is, it's the newest way to avoid waiting in line for the security screening at YVR if you're travelling (at least at time of writing) within Canada or to the United States: schedule a specific time to enter security and all you need to do after that is to look for the YVR EXPRESS signs at security checkpoint and show up there within 15 minutes of your reserved time slot. Just show the airport staff your reservation QR code and you are ready to go through the security screening without having to wait in line! And yes, this means that you could potentially lose your priority place in line if you don't show up within your designated time slot, so make sure you arrive at the airport in advance to be able to finalize your check-in formalities (especially if you have checked luggage and/or still don't have
boarding passes) before proceeding to security. For us, we did this for our first flight to San Francisco and it worked out perfectly fine: we did show up on time and used a designated lane with no people in front of us right up to the actual security screening area. I'm sure you'd appreciate this new feature even if you're travelling alone, but especially if you're travelling with kids.
United Airlines experience
Staff: we found all United staff (whether it's on the ground or in the air) to be polite and accommodating. All it took was to ask to get upgraded to Economy Plus on our flight to San Francisco. We also got extra meals and drinks in-flight (on the long-haul flight) again simply by asking, and we were never questioned in regards to either the size or weight of our carry-on bags, which was really appreciated.
Meals: we found the meals on United long-haul flights to be just OK, exactly what you'd expect in Economy. No real complaints here as this is the kind of food I also had on all other long-haul flights I've been on (and I've been on quite a few of them).
In-flight entertainment: it was just fine. Although there's always something to watch/listen/play, I just wish there was a bit larger selection/variety of movies in general and new releases in particular.
San Francisco-Singapore flight: it's a real challenge being inside an aircraft for 17.5 hours even for adults, what's more if you're travelling in Economy with an active child! Suffice to say that we never finished a single movie and never really had a chance to even close our eyes. Having Economy Plus seats on a 787 Dreamliner did help to overcome some of the challenges, but we would definitely try to avoid flights of such duration in future. Well, at least we may now add one of the longest flights in the world to our bucket list.
Singapore overnight stay
We arrived in Singapore in the evening but our flight to Manila wasn't until the following morning. We were originally planning to stay at one of the transit hotels at Changi Airport (airside) for that overnight, but after finding out it was fully booked, we decided to reserve a room at YOTELAIR Singapore Changi and let me tell you: we were not disappointed. In fact, we were actually happy to stay at that property as it's the only hotel located at Jewel Changi (aka “the Jewel”) - a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex that opened in 2019. The centerpiece of the Jewel is the Rain Vortex - the world's tallest indoor waterfall, cascading 7 storeys (about 40 m or 130 ft) from the rooftop down to the basement.
It's an amazing sight during the day and even more so by night when the sheet of water becomes a screen on which a light-and-sound show is projected. The waterfall is surrounded by Shiseido Forest Valley - an indoor terraced tropical garden spanning 5 storeys - and a Canopy Park - a 14,000 sqm (150,000 sqft) recreational wonderland for all ages - at Jewel's top level. Add to that hundreds of dining outlets and stores as well as a multi-screen cinema (including an IMAX theatre) and you'll get a bit of an idea what the Jewel is. If you were teleported there, the thought that you're actually at an airport would probably not be the first one on your mind. There are reasons why Changi Airport has been ranked one of the top airports in the world for many years and the Jewel is just one of them, although there really are many more.
The YOTELAIR is facing the Rain Vortex, so you may enjoy the view of the waterfall right from the hotel while sipping on a cup or two of coffee or tea available for free for hotel guests at the hotel's lounge area. If you've ever stayed at a YOTEL before, you'll then be familiar with its smart minimalist design and its signature purple colour. The size of their Premium Queen rooms is only about 110 sqft (or 10 sqm), but it can accommodate up to 2 adults and 1 child up to 5 years of age. The room features a fully-adjustable queen-size bed, SmartTV (which you can connect your own device to), laptop-size safe, a desk (with power and USB sockets), foldable chair, toilet, and a shower room featuring rain showerhead, YOTEL's bathroom amenities and a hairdryer. The hotel does have some accessible Premium Queen rooms as well as Family rooms (that can accommodate up to four guests). These room types are about twice the size of the Premium Queen rooms. There's also a gym with 24/7 access. Although the hotel itself doesn't have any of its own dining facilities (other than vending machines that provide snacks and drinks for purchase), you may have meals delivered to you from up to five different eateries across the entire airport in a single delivery using food delivery platform Changi Eats, or you may just walk out of the hotel and with dozens of nearby options, surely you'll be able to find a place to eat pretty fast. The hotel is located on the 4th floor of the Jewel between Terminals 1 and 2.
An important thing to note is that the Jewel (and hence the YOTEL) are located landside. What this means is that if you're departing from Singapore and want to visit the Jewel, you must do so before passing through immigration. For those transiting Singapore (as was the case with us), you must pass through immigration to be able to access the Jewel (and the hotel). And here's yet another reason why Changi is ranked one of the top airports in the world: just how easy and streamlined the process of entering Singapore really is even though it's one of the busiest airports in the world. All we had to do was to take SkytTrain just outside the arrival gate (1 stop) and simply walk over to the Immigration. We were directed to a "special" lane since we had a child with us and it took us just a few minutes to finalize the formalities, but even if we had to line up at one of the "regular" lanes, it wouldn't take much longer as all we had to do was to present our passports and have our picture and fingerprints taken. Not a single question asked! As for Customs, if you don't have anything to declare, you literally just walk out the door that says "Nothing To Declare".
That's it: you're in Singapore! At the time of writing, fully vaccinated Canadians only need to submit the SG Arrival Card prior to their arrival in Singapore, but I'm sure the process itself is as easy for others as it was for us.
Flying to Manila on Jetstar
One of our concerns was that being a low-cost airline, there will be strict adherence to their carry-on luggage policies. Specifically on our flight to Manila, however, none of our carry-on bags were weighted or measured in any way. It was a very different experience on the return, but more on that later. And here's yet another feature that differentiates Changi from many (if not most) other major airports in the world: the security screening is done right at the gates, so instead of waiting in line along with hundreds of other travellers flying on dozens of different flights, you pass through security just with those who are on the same flight as yourself. As for the flight itself, it was, for the most part,
uneventful. There was no any in-flight entertainment - at the time of writing Jetstar offers it only on their international flights operated by their Boeing 787 Dreamliners - so all we could do for about 3.5 hours is staring at the window or just sit back and relax.
At the time of writing, fully vaccinated Canadians only need to complete the mandatory immigration and health eTravel form prior to arrival to the Philippines. Surprisingly, the entire process of going through Immigration at NAIA was actually quite easy and, just like in Singapore, since we were travelling with a child, we were directed to a "special" lane, which was appreciated. The entire process took (at least for us) maybe around 30-45 minutes. Collecting our checked bags took another 10-15 minutes and, to our delight, with no lost/damaged/stolen pieces despite having flown on two different airlines (three flights in total) with an overnight layover to get to Manila. It was very different for us on the return, but again, more on that later. By the time we finally got home in Paniqui, Tarlac (some 4 hours later), we were exhausted and since Manila is 16 hours ahead of Vancouver, BC, adjusting to the new time zone was a challenge we had to overcome. It was indeed quite a difficult process that took us about 3-4 days.
Since we mostly stayed at Lorie's parents' house, we enjoyed a lot of home-cooked Filipino dishes, including kaldereta (meat stewed with vegetables and liver paste); sisig (a dish composed of minced pork (usually pig's face and belly) and chicken liver and usually seasoned with calamansi, chopped onions, and chili pepper); bulalo (beef shank soup that typically includes leafy vegetables, corn on the cob and scallions); nilaga (soup made with boiled meat (beef or pork) and various vegetables, typically bok choy or cabbage, potatoes, and saba banana); sinigang (sour soup with pork as the main ingredient, stewed with tamarind, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and some other vegetables); and pinakbet (a dish made of a variety of vegetables, including bitter melon, eggplant, tomato, okra, string beans, all sauteed in shrimp sauce with an added meat component, usually pork).
Typical Filipino cuisine restaurants
The way you usually order food at such restaurants is that you order a variety of dishes and share them with whomever you are dining with. A typical dish at such restaurants is pretty large and is actually meant for sharing. That way you can try a variety of different dishes at once.
Your visit to the Philippines won't be complete without eating at least once at the "McDonald's of the Philippines" called so due to a sheer number of locations across the country, but somehow I have this gut feeling that it won't be just once that you'll end up at Jollibee, especially if you're not adventurous enough to try just about anything and everything that may come your way while you're travelling in the Philippines! But just in case you're not adventurous enough even for a Jollibee, you'll find lots of McDonald's locations in the country although do not be surprised to see a menu that is quite different from what you got used to seeing in Canada or the US!
Jollibee and McDonald's are actually so competitive in the country that lots of times you will find them located almost next to each other with their names often prominently displayed on long posts for better visibility, especially along highways. If you do decide to give Jollibee a try (and I'm sure you would!), some of the most popular items include their famous ChickenJoy - the Filipino version of KFC's fried chicken buckets (although, I'd say, tasting much better); pancit palabok - a Filipino noodle dish with meat and shrimp toppings tossed in Jollibee's signature palabok sauce; Jolly hotdog; ice cream sundae; and, of course, their crispy and flavourful peach mango pies!
If you are a fan of "all you can eat" (aka "eat all you can" in the Philippines), you'll find lots of choices there, especially in Manila. Some of the most popular options that we actually visited include Vikings and Spiral buffets. Vikings actually has a number of locations across the country (usually at SM Supermalls) and is considered one of the most popular buffets in the Philippines, featuring a variety of international cuisines at relatively affordable rates. The Spiral buffet, on the other hand, has only one location (at Sofitel Manila), but is one of the grandest, luxurious, and most expensive buffets in the country. With the PHP 4,999 (approximately CAD 117) price tag for dinner (on select days) as well as for Sunday brunch, it's definitely not cheap, but in my humble opinion it's well worth the price. With 21 dining stations (also called ateliers) to choose from, you're never going to run out of options and the food quality and variety is just top notch. It even has a
separate cheese room and three chocolate fountains!
You've probably heard of the infamous Metro Manila traffic, which I actually got to experience myself. And I can relay that it's indeed pretty horrendous. For perspective, it was a rush hour and we actually consider ourselves lucky that it took us "only" about 1.5 hours to get to our destination when it would have been only about 20 minutes with minimal traffic. Over the past decade, however, a number of toll roads (expressways) have been built in the Philippines not only to decongest the traffic in Metro Manila, but also to improve accessibility to the main tourist spots in the country.
At the time of writing there are 10 controlled-access highways in the country spanning over 600 km. Since there's always a free alternative to get from point A to point B, taking toll roads is obviously a personal choice but considering the overall road conditions and traffic congestion of regular non-toll roads and highways in the Philippines (especially in Metro Manila), combined with a relatively affordable toll rates, the choice is kind of a no-brainer (at least it was for us). As an example, one of the longest road trips took us about 5 hours (which was a combination of toll and regular roads) that cost us a total of PHP 1054 (about CAD 25). If we were to take purely free roads, it would have probably taken us 7-8 hours (if not longer) to get home.
Driving and crossing streets
If you've never been outside of Canada/the United Sates/Europe, you’ll likely experience a "bit" of a cultural shock if you try to cross a street or, better yet, choose to drive in the Philippines. For me, having now visited more than 30 countries, I was kind of prepared for what to expect. Crossing streets in the Philippines (even using crosswalks, which are almost nonexistent and a lot of times simply ignored anyways, especially outside of the main cities) during the busy part of the day (which is essentially all day long except maybe during the wee hours) is not for the faint-hearted. In the Philippines no one is really going to stop for you just so you could cross a road: you'll have to do so either as soon as you see some gap in traffic (which may take a while!) or else just start crossing with the hopes that you don't accidentally get run over!
Traffic lights, especially outside of the major cities, are as hard to come by as crosswalks, so you just have to walk/drive whenever/wherever you feel/think it's safe to do so, which is pretty much next to impossible to determine with all the tricycles, motorcycles and jeepneys coming out of nowhere and filling up the roads. It's so bad in Manila that they even have traffic controllers at intersections with perfectly working traffic lights!
If you find yourself brave enough to drive in the Philippines, be prepared for some serious fun! Forget about the lanes. Who needs them anyways? Just find some open space on a road for yourself to fit it and honk at anyone trying to get into it: it's that easy! For even more fun, try to get into someone else's space, especially when you find yourself in an urgent need to change your position on the road, like turning left or right! And it's getting even more exciting when it comes to uncontrolled intersections, where the concept of the right of way is pretty much nonexistent!
With all this traffic madness, you'd think that non-automobile drivers, like tricycle drivers and motorcyclists (and their passengers) would at least try to pretend to think of their own safety by wearing helmets. Not quite! In the countryside almost none of those riders wear any head protection whatsoever (even toddlers!). It's slightly different in Manila, where at least motorcyclists think that it's probably a good idea to have their helmets on. Actually, it is the law in the Philippines for motorcyclists to wear helmets, but apparently not everyone is so keen on following it, especially in the countryside.
Places we visited
Thanks to its higher altitude (about 2,000 ft or 600 m) above sea level), Tagaytay experiences a relatively cooler climate compared to the rest of the country. Not to say there's a huge variation in temperatures from nearby Manila (which is only about 1.5 hours drive away), but Tagaytay's higher elevation compared to that of Manila (which is mostly just above the sea level), does make a difference. Tagaytay is easily accessible from Metro Manila and other parts of central Luzon (Philippine's largest island), making it a favoured weekend getaway for domestic tourists and a popular destination for international visitors. For us it was about a 4-hour-drive, but it was definitely worth the effort.
The view of Taal Volcano (which is one of the most active volcanoes in the entire world where the latest major eruption occurred just in January 2020) and its picturesque lake (that gives the volcano a more stunning backdrop) is really incredible and is Tagaytay's main draw. We spent only one night in Tagaytay, staying at the Quest hotel. Since it's a large hotel, we decided not to reserve our room in advance in hopes of being able to negotiate a rate upon arrival. We ended up getting an even better rate than what we saw online!
Note that the Quest hotel is a 3-star property, so if you're looking for a luxury hotel with stunning views of Taal Volcano, this property may not be the right choice for you, but it worked out quite well for us. Nice, clean rooms, comfy beds, all the amenities we needed, and the location is perfect: it's right at the geographical center of Tagaytay across from a shopping mall near the intersection of Tagaytay's main roads, allowing an easy access to most tourist spots within and beyond the city as well as to numerous restaurants, cafes and local markets.
One of the most famous foods in Tagaytay is bulalo. There are a number of restaurants serving this dish in the city. We decided to visit Mahogany Market, which is Tagaytay's famous go-to place for beef (and other meats), fresh produce, and, of course, its bulalo! In fact, the entire second floor of its beef market is filled with stalls serving primarily bulalo (at affordable prices!) along with some other local delicacies. Among the sweet stuff you don't want to miss in Tagaytay are buko pies that are made with young coconuts and sweetened condensed milk.
As I've already mentioned, one of the main attractions in Tagaytay is the view of Taal Volcano, which you could admire from a number of vantage points around the city, including restaurant decks and even from your own room at select hotels. Before the 2020 eruption you could even take a boat to the Volcano Island (home to the volcano's Main Crater) in the middle of Taal Lake and then hike all the way up to the rim of the crater! Before the eruption the Main Crater contained a lake of its own, which some tourists even hiked down to just to take a dip in!
Some other popular Tagaytay attractions with a "view" include People's Park in the Sky (an unfinished mansion built to host the then US President Ronald Reagan. When his visit was cancelled, the construction was halted and the structure was later converted to an urban park with a view deck); Tagaytay Picnic Grove (a 13-hectare park and a picnic area where you can also enjoy a number of leisure activities, such as horseback riding, cable car, eco-trail and 2 ziplines); and Sky Ranch Tagaytay (an amusement park).
Other tourist spots you may be interested in while visiting Tagaytay are Queens Strawberry Farm, Sonya's Garden, and if you have kids, Gingerbread House! All of these are actually located in the nearby town of Alfonso, which is just a short drive from Tagaytay.
Places we visited
Boracay is a small island in the Philippines, just off the much larger island of Panay. Boracay is known for being one of the best places in the country for a beach vacation. It features some of the best beaches in the country including the stunning White Beach, featuring immaculately white powdery sand, crystal-clear blue waters, and gorgeous sunsets. The 4-kilometer-long beach is dotted with an array of hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes, and water activities are abundant.
The beach is divided into three distinct zones (Station 1, 2, and 3). Station 1 is where most of Boracay's luxury hotels and resorts are located. It's the finest stretch of the White Beach. The area is typically less crowded and a more laidback part of the beach. Station 2 is right in between Stations 1 and 3 and is Boracay's dining, shopping, and the entertainment center. Home to more affordable mid-range hotels and resorts, this is the most crowded part of the island where a lot of action takes place, day or night. Station 3, the furthest south of the three stations, is a hub for budget accommodations with a number of backpacker options. Being such a popular destination obviously equates to an influx of tourists (both domestic and international), especially during one of Boracay's busiest months of the year - February.
We wanted to be away from the hustle and bustle of the White Beach and although we did visit it, we chose to stay on the other side of the island at Savoy Hotel Boracay. There were a few reasons for this choice. Being away from the crowds is one of them. This, however, may also be a disadvantage for some as there's not much to do in the area around the hotel with most dining, shopping, and entertainment being pretty far away (definitely not within walking distance) and although the hotel does offer free shuttle service to and from D'Mall in Station 2, it runs at specific times only and a ride (both ways) must be reserved in advance, so you may find yourself in need to arrange your own transportation (like a tricycle) if you require more freedom to move around.
Other reasons for our choice was that it's fairly new (built in 2017) hotel (with all the amenities and facilities you'd expect from a 4-star property) and the buffet breakfast (which was actually pretty good) was also included in our rate. The closest beach to the hotel is called Ilig-Iligan. It can be reached either by walking (around 10-15 minutes each way) or else using a free hotel shuttle. The beach offers the seclusion and privacy away from touristy spots around the island, but this seclusion also means very limited facilities and things to do, which was just fine with us, but may not be suitable for someone looking for a more active beach vacation.
I also wanted to mention in regards to transfers between airport and the hotels in Boracay. This was the case with us, but this is likely very similar to other properties around the island that offer airport transfers. Most people travelling by air arrive into Caticlan Airport, which is the nearest airport to Boracay. It's located on the island of Panay, which means that to get to a hotel in Boracay, in addition to ground transportation, you'll also need to take a ferry (about a 10-minute ride). The hotel offered us a rate of PHP 1,200 (around CAD 28) one-way p/person. We found such a rate to be pretty steep for such a relatively short transfer, especially in the Philippines, so we decided to take our chances and just arrange transfers upon arrival. It was actually a good choice as we ended up getting much more reasonable rates compared to what the hotel offered us.
Hundred Islands National Park
Hundred Islands National Park is the main draw of Pangasinan province in central part of Luzon. It's a popular weekend getaway for local tourists, particularly in summer. It is actually comprised of 123 islands (124 at low tide) scattered in the Lingayen Gulf, however, only 5 of those (Governors Island, Quezon Island, Marcos Island, Children's Island, and Pilgrimage Island) have been developed for tourism purposes: the majority of other islands are inaccessible for tourists.
The main gateway to the Hundred Islands National Park is the city of Alaminos, which is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Paniqui, so for us it was really a question of "when" rather than "if" we visit it. As was the case in Tagaytay, we decided not to book our accommodation in advance so that we could negotiate it locally upon arrival. A lot of accommodations in Alaminos are vacation rental-type properties. As we travelled with our relatives, we needed two rooms and were able to negotiate an entire house for 1 night for PHP 3,200 (about CAD 76), which is not bad, in my opinion, although be aware that this worked out well for us as the majority in our party were Filipinos, but if you are visiting as an international tourist, you're probably better off reserving a room online in advance.
Boats for the island-hopping tours are available from 6 am till 5:30 pm and the rates will depend on the size of your boat. For example, a medium boat (that can accommodate 6-10 people) is costing (at time of writing) PHP 1,800 (about CAD 42) for a one-day tour or PHP 3,800 (about CAD 89) for a two-day tour. You may also hire a tour guide for a day for PHP 1000 (about CAD 24), which is quite reasonable, especially if you're sharing the costs with others in your party. Also, if you don't want to get hungry while island hopping, make sure you bring your own food and drinks and don't forget to rent a gazebo (or at least a picnic table) on one of the islands to being able to enjoy it! You may even stay overnight at an air-conditioned Mayor's Island Guest House, although this would cost you a whopping PHP 10,000 (about CAD 235)!
A much more affordable way of spending a night on one of the islands is by bringing your own tent, in which case you'd just pay a tent space/pitching fee of PHP 200 (about CAD 5).
There are a number of activities you may do while island hopping in Hundred Islands, including sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, cliff jumping, ziplining, jet skiing, helmet diving, and banana boat riding. Although most of these activities will cost extra, they're all relatively affordable and will definitely create lots of memories!
Nestled within the Cordillera Central Mountain range some 5000 ft (or 1500 m) above sea level sits the city of Baguio. Built on uneven, hilly terrain the city can surely offer a variety of some breathtaking views and landscapes, however, getting to Baguio is a real challenge and an adventure in and of itself. If you're coming from the south, there are two main highways you could take, each one having its own pros and cons, however, no matter which way you go, the road will be filled with sharp hairpin turns, blind curves, steep inclines, and zigzags. Poor weather conditions (including fog and heavy rains during certain months of the year) and possible landslides don't make getting to Baguio any easier. Add to that poor road conditions, traffic (at times heavy) and a high likelihood of being stuck behind a very slow-moving vehicle for a long time on a single-track road and you'll get a bit of an idea of what driving to Baguio is like. We ourselves actually considered taking public transportation at first, but at the end decided to drive.
So what is it that makes Baguio such a popular destination despite all the challenges of getting there in the first place? Baguio's biggest draw is its cool mountain weather that the city enjoys year-round and that has earned it a reputation of being the Summer Capital of the Philippines as many local and foreign tourists alike flock to the city to take a quick respite from the tropical heat of the rest of the country. Temperatures in Baguio do not fluctuate much throughout the year with an average ranging from 15°C to 23°C and rarely exceeding 26°C even during the hottest months. The city's high altitude also makes it ideal for the growth of pine trees. And although nowadays pines are not as abundant in the city as they were before, the trees still remain one of Baguio's most distinguishing features that has earned the city another nickname - "City of Pines". We decided to visit Baguio just as a day trip and, as a result, did not have much time to thoroughly explore the city. With a number of tourist spots and attractions scattered all over Baguio and beyond, one day is definitely not enough: I would recommend to spend at least 2 or 3 nights in the city.
Burnham Park is one of the most popular tourist spots in Baguio. This urban park is a great place for recreation for families and friends. There are a number of things you could do there, like paddling a boat on Burnham Lake, biking, skating, jogging, and picnicking. And if you have kids, the park also has a large children's playground. Baguio Botanical Garden is another popular destination, home to a variety of indigenous plants and flowers. And if taking a long stroll through the pine woods is what you're after, then Forest Bathing Trail in Camp John Hay is a perfect place for shinrinyoku, the Japanese term for "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing".
Camp John Hay is actually a former military installation that was used as an R&R facility for the US military personnel in the Philippines and is now a popular tourist destination in Baguio complete with the 18-hole golf course, luxurious accommodations, shopping outlets, food joints, and a variety of outdoor activities, such as forest bathing, picnicking, horseback riding, rappelling, and even Tree Top Adventure and Paintball! Other popular spots within the city of Baguio include Good Shepherd Convent (one of Baguio's most popular souvenir shops, featuring a variety of food products (including their delicious must-buy Ube Jam) prepared by Good Shepherd nuns), Mines View Park with its observation deck offers some spectacular mountain views, and Tam-awan Village - an arts and cultural center built by local artists where you can learn about Cordillera culture and heritage. And if you love strawberries, you cannot skip a visit to La Trinidad Strawberry Farm. Although often associated with Baguio, the farm is actually located some 30 minutes by car north of the city in the town of La Trinidad aka the "Strawberry Capital of the Philippines".
After being in the Philippines for more than 3 weeks, time has come for us to return home. We didn't really expect any issues or complications judging by how smooth our entire experience was on the way to the Philippines and the fact that all our flights home were still on time. However, it all started right at NAIA when a check-in agent for Jetstar (the first airline on the return portion of our United ticket) politely informed us that she sees only our Jetstar flight in her system with no indication/notes whatsoever that we actually also have United flights from Singapore onwards, so we were told we could only get our boarding passes as far as Singapore and our bags will also be tagged only as far as Singapore!
That was a bummer…For two reasons: for one, a United agent back in Vancouver not only saw our Jetstar flight, but also checked our bags all the way through to Manila and even issued our Jetstar boarding passes right on the spot; and secondly, we had a transit hotel booked in Singapore for our overnight there and had no plans to enter Singapore again.
Although this wouldn't have been an issue for us, the question was that if we now must pick up our checked bags in Singapore upon arrival, how would we go back airside to our transit hotel at 2 am without United boarding passes when the check-in counters would most likely be closed at such an hour (our flight wasn't until after 10 am)? It was even more frustrating because we already paid in full for our transit accommodation.
As if this wasn’t enough, we were also asked by the same agent to weigh all of our carry-on bags and were politely told that their combined weight was more that we were allowed to bring on board (mind you, these were exactly the same carry-on bags with a similar weight to what we had on our way to the Philippines and we were never questioned about it at that time!) and that we'd have to check-in 2 of those! Luckily, we had exactly 2 checked bags less on the return, so we didn't end up having to pay any extra for those additional bags we were forced to check-in (thanks Jetstar!)
Unfortunately, we completely forgot that all our sweaters and rain jackets for Vancouver were in one of those bags, but it was too late when we actually realized that! I can't really tell for sure, maybe Jetstar felt bad about our overall checkin experience with them, but somehow we actually got free meals (yes, free meals on a low-cost airline!) on their flight to Singapore (which we didn't actually get on their flight to Manila).
Upon arrival to Singapore, instead of rushing to pick up our checked luggage right away (and it was actually good that we didn't and I'll explain why later), we started asking around the ground staff if there was a way around this whole checked bags-transit hotel issue. Luckily, the airport staff at Changi turned out to be extremely helpful. After explaining our situation, we were told that our bags would be re-tagged to San Francisco and that we could proceed directly to our transit hotel (to have some rest) and pick up our United boarding passes later in the morning at the United Airlines transit desk! What a service! Once again you realize that you're at one of the best airports in the world!
The transit hotel we stayed at in Singapore on our return is called Aerotel Singapore. They actually charge by the hour with a minimum of 6 hours. We reserved a room for exactly 6 hours and the hotel staff was kind enough to move our time by half an hour since we were late to check-in on time due to our checked luggage issue. The hotel itself is actually quite nice and clean and we did have a few hours of good sleep. The hotel also includes meals in their rate (1 per adult per stay of at least 6 hours), which you simply choose from the menu in your room and then get to enjoy at any time during your stay at the hotel's lounge. The hotel also has an open-air swimming pool, but we didn't get to enjoy as it's not open at night time.
Upon checking out from the hotel we proceeded directly to the United Airlines transit counter in Terminal 3. Although the Aerotel that we stayed at is located in Terminal 1, transferring between Terminals 1, 2, and 3 at Changi is a breeze, especially if you're using the SkyTrain. To our relief, we were able to obtain all our United boarding passes right there at the transit desk and proceeded directly to our gate, which was actually just a short walk away.
The flight to San Francisco, although still a long one (14.5 hours) was quite a bit shorter that on the outbound (17.5 hours) and it was a bit easier for us to overcome the challenges we encountered on the longer flight. As we were closer to the back of the aircraft, it took us a while to get off the plane and pass through passport control at San Francisco, so by the time we got to the luggage carousel, all of passengers' bags were already off of it ready to be picked up. You may possibly imagine our surprise when we could not locate a single bag (among the leftovers) that belonged to us! We didn't really think that our luggage was stolen since it wasn't just one or two pieces that were missing: all 6 of them and the stroller were not there! Our first thought actually was that something went wrong with the re-tagging at Changi Airport. We immediately proceeded to the luggage desk and yet another surprise awaited us: we were told that all our bags were still in Manila!
We definitely didn't expect that! We were just told to file a report as soon as we arrive to Vancouver and since there was nothing else we could do at that point, we had to proceed to our final flight. Upon arrival to Vancouver, the luggage desk reconfirmed that all our bags were indeed still in Manila. It was really disappointing to hear. Having one or two bags delayed is one thing, but not knowing when/if we see the entire set of our checked luggage (full of things that we use on a daily basis) ever again is a completely different story! Even our Uber driver home was really surprised and confused that a family of 3 is coming home from an almost month-long vacation with just a few carry-on bags in summer clothes at a zero-degree temperature. Who wouldn't be?!
Finally, after more than 3 days of numerous follow-up calls, to our great relief, we got a notification that our bags (apparently all of them) would be delivered to us the following day. It was even a greater relief that none of our bags ended up missing and nothing inside was stolen/misplaced. In the end it was a happy ending to our fabulous vacation in the Philippines!