The Filipino Way
Kimi & Thomas
“We must have gone to all the mountains surrounding Manila, and when we didn’t have any others to go to we went to the beaches, and then the waterfalls, and then the lagoons,” says Kimi Juan, one half of the adventure travel duo that runs the popular Escape Journal blog.
It’s hard not to feel inspired by Kimi and Thomas Caja, her partner in life as well as work. The camera-savvy twentysomethings started Escape Journal just a few years ago, wanting to keep a photo diary of their favourite memories as they travelled around the Philippines. But the couple’s passion for their homeland proved to be infectious. Now, they share snapshots and stories from the country’s hidden gems to more than a hundred thousand followers around the world.
“When people say ‘Philippines’, they think Manila” says Kimi. “But there’s more than meets the eye. There’s always something more beautiful you can find here…that’s the goal, being able to prove to people that the Philippines is even more beautiful than you think.”
That includes the country’s postcard-worthy beaches, those long vacant stretches of sugary sands that have made the Philippines a must for anyone in search of sun and sea.
We’re definitely beach people - Thomas
I think we have the most beautiful beaches in the world - Kimi
Kimi and Thomas have been to a lot of them, including top spots such as Boracay. While they do enjoy the big draws, they believe some of the lesser marketed beaches have much more to offer travellers, including one of their favourites: Burot Beach in Batangas.
“To get there you take this tiny road, and it’s like you’re crossing the sea. If you make one wrong move, you might fall in the water,” says Thomas, punctuating his recollection with a laugh.
White sand, no people, the best sunsets – it’s a dream - Kimi
“There’s an island in Siargao, where there are no trees, called ‘Naked Island’. Don’t go here if you don’t want to get tan.”
These places might sound off the beaten track, but the couple credits the one-of-a-kind hospitality of the Filipino people for helping travellers get to these kinds of places.
Even if there are no taxis or cars, the locals will go out of their way to take you where you want to go. That’s what I love about the Philippines- Kimi
In fact, she continues, the two often ask locals – boatmen, taxi drivers, kids on the street – to take photos of them, including some of the iconic shots on Escape Journal. “It’s a good way to connect with the people you’re traveling with - when they see the pictures they’ve taken, it makes them happy,” she says.
But sometimes the two go so far off the grid they can’t find a Wi-Fi signal to post those images to social media, like when they travelled to Batanes, remote islands as far north as the Philippines goes, and also one of their top places to experience traditional Filipino culture.
“Batanes is the most beautiful place I’ve seen,” says Thomas, who captured the stone houses, grassy hills and rocky shores that make picturesque Batanes feel as if it has been transplanted from Medieval Scotland in a video celebrating the couple’s engagement.
There are other kinds of Filipino culture the two recommend experiencing, as well, such as Siargao’s laidback surf scene and, for the daring, Siquijor’s otherworldly witchcraft.
Thomas says there are a lot of waterfalls near Manila. “What’s nice about them is that, when you get to the falls, nobody else is there.” He likes Buntot Palos, a 30-metre waterfall in Pangil, Laguna, sometimes called Eel’s Tail or Hidden Falls. “You really have to go through the forest and get down and dirty [to get there].” He recommends asking a local for help.
Kimi fondly recalls a seven-kilometre hike up Mount Pinatubo. “That was our first travel experience together, and it was when we decided to start Escape Journal.” This still active volcano erupted fantastically in 1992, but now its crater has been filled in with brilliant blue water. She recommends packing a picnic – and your camera, because she says the scenery here is some of the most magnificent in the Philippines.
There’s so much to do in the Philippines. Yes, we have the most beautiful beaches, but we also have the mountains, we have the cities. You can surf, you can dive, you can trek, you can go island-hopping, you can repel down waterfalls, really, you can do anything here - Kimi
For Kimi and Thomas, the next adventure begins in Coron, an island in Palawan. They say that is where the best diving spots are, and they claim the water is so clear that the shipwrecks, coral reef and tropical fish are all visible from the edge of the boat. Making it extra special, they each note, “It will be the first time we’ve been to Palawan together.”