The Magical Underwater World in the Philippines
Since I moved to Singapore a year ago, the Philippines has been my favorite place to dive in all of Southeast Asia. From Moalboal to Malapascua, you get the most vibrant neon rainbow colors of marine life, plus the exhilarating proximity of thresher sharks a mere 15 feet away.
Moalboal is primarily a wall dive teeming with marine life, but Malapascua offers a myriad of dives, including a shipwreck dive, cave dive, and diving with thresher dives! (Yes, there’s even a “thresher shark” scuba diving certification. PADI really is trying to squeeze every ounce of money from us they can..)
To see the thresher sharks, we headed out on a boat at 5am to sail for about 45 minutes to the area where the sharkies were just waking up. We slowly dived down about 40 ft to the bottom of the ocean, and patiently kneeled on the sandy bottom. I couldn’t even focus on my knees’ discomfort because I was trying to get my heart-rate back to normal in anticipation of the sharks.
Then suddenly, THERE THEY WERE. Gliding and slicing through the water effortlessly… so beautifully, and so close. They even swam just a terrifyingly close 10 feet above my head, oblivious to the trespassers on their turf. We weren’t the only creatures interested in the sharks — there were fish that had zero fear and swam symbiotically next to the sharks, trying to nibble at the sharks’ private parts (I’m not sure what tasty morsels the sharks had down there…)
Watching the eager fish, I laughed out loud into my regulator, an exhale that finally allowed me to breathe regularly again. And then I just soaked in how magnificent these animals were. Six feet of grace and majesty, with their slender, whipping tails cutting through the water. They left us completely alone, more concerned with meandering for their breakfast of prey much smaller than us humans. Jaws the movie really screwed over their rep as vicious, ruthless predators.
Diving through caves and beyond
During another dive we descended and had to weave our way through a narrow cave.. definitely not for the claustrophobic. At the entrance, we were greeted by a giant spindly shrimp the size of a medium-sized dog. The divers with their GoPros clamored around it, while I was perfectly content in the back to let them snap their photos. The shrimp seemed almost regal perched in its coral throne, immune to the group of humans oogling at its size.
Other dives provided a different type of beauty and pure joy at being surrounded by so much hustle and bustle beneath the water. It felt very much like the opening montage of the Nick Jr. TV show “The Busy World of Richard Scarry” where cartoon creatures zip around in their cars, starting and stopping, running into other creatures. And yet in the sea, there were no collisions, no traffic jams. Everything just flows underwater, and every critter has its own place and path in the ocean.
And the COLORS! Lisa Frank ain’t got nothin’ on the rainbow of colors you see underwater. The chubby, spongy sea stars the size of my head laid claim to their spot on the coral rocks, right next to the spiky sea anemones. Both creatures boasted an array of the brightest blues and richest purple hues I’ve ever seen. The seahorses bobbed in and out of their neon pink coral homes, never crashing into the schools of Nemo fish. Eels only poked their heads out of their cave shelters when necessary to glare blankly at intruders.
Underwater I was grateful for the deafening silence, as diving floods you with so much visual sensory overload. The only sound while diving is the steady breathing through the regulator, so I overlaid my own soundtrack: the gut-wrenching song “Tell Me How Long” by Kristen Bell to the incredible documentary “Chasing Coral.” The film chronicles the horrifying phenomenon of coral reefs bleaching themselves as a protection mechanism against warming ocean temperatures due to global warming. I can’t recommend the documentary highly enough — it’s on Netflix!
Every time I dive, the spectacular beauty and tragedy of the dying ocean cause my eyes to water, and it’s not the stinging saltwater, I swear. My heart breaks every time I think of how we as a species do so many activities that damage these precious animals’ homes and ecosystem. But it’s heartwarming to meet people from numerous conservation groups like Reef World (Hi, Melissa!) and 4ocean tackling the daunting task of reversing human impact to save our oceans.
And that’s just the diving. For the snorkel enthusiasts, there is just as vibrant of an ecosystem a mere six feet underwater. On the last day of our trip, we cruised around the entire island on a small boat and hopped off three places to go snorkeling. One was right above a sunken Japanese WWII ship. Shipwreck dives are some of my favorites, as I let my imagination create the stories of the men (I assume no women) who inhabited the vessel over 70 years ago.
The breathtaking sun and water
And none of the diving or snorkeling could be possible without the piercingly crystal waters of the Philippines. From the shore you can wade into perfectly clear water. Then as you lift your gaze into the horizon, the color becomes a gradient of turquoise unlike any water color you can see outside of Southeast Asia. When the sun is high overhead, the water blindingly sparkles at you, as if daring you to come splashing in.
Witnessing the glowing orange sun peek over the ocean during sunrise felt like we were part of a secret ritual that only a select group of people could see. (which is probably true… who’s normally up at 5:30am??) And the sunsets were just as magical, if not more special. The array of colors flash more vividly than any palette of paint could contain. I’m not sure how the light scatters to create this sunset, but there were pinks, oranges, and magentas that I had never seen before.
Always room for gluttony: food and massages
Filipino food for some reason really hasn’t gained notoriety outside of the Philippines, but I absolutely love it. I mean, what’s not to love about greasy pork belly, fried pork, lots of rice, no vegetables, and more pork? To cool off from the humid heat, I indulged in 2–3 mango shakes every day that were perfectly sweet and refreshing. There’s a reason the dried mangoes at Costco are simply branded “Philippines”…
And after a hard day of diving (I promise, floating burns calories), we indulged in daily massages for a mere $12 USD. Calling the Philippines “paradise” is an understatement, and I can’t wait to return for even more remarkable beaches and diving spots.