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Living on Samal Island

2012 January 14

SamalWH Living on Samal Island

A little under four years ago I made a trip to the Philippines that began a love affair with this little island off the Davao Gulf commonly known as Samal Island. It was then that I agreed to purchase land near the White House, with hopes of eventually retiring there. Thus began this blog.

Four years can be a long time. Do I still have intentions to retire on Samal?

That’s not an easy question to answer.

Many things have changed during that time. I’ve had a couple of additional and extended trips to the Island Garden City of Samal. It’s all been documented here, which was the original purpose of this blog. From buying land on Samal, until retirement there.

Some events in my life have naturally been of personal nature, and I don’t feel the need to expound on in a public forum such as this. Other events, such as the realization that the plot of land that we purchased was difficult at best to reach, were just a matter of looking at things in a more practical manner.

My anticipated retirement age has also changed a number of times during that period. Sometimes a little longer, and occasionally much sooner. As of today I have a good idea when that will be, but there are a number of factors, as always, that are out of my control. I will know when the time is, when I do.

So I’ve avoided answering the question long enough, but as you can see, I don’t have a complete answer. If I were to somehow retire today, or soon, it appears to me that I would live in the greater Davao area. At the least, somewhere outside of Davao. That is where I have come to feel comfortable, and where most of my friends and acquaintances are located. Admittedly I have not traveled extensively throughout the Philippines, but I am comfortable with Davao, the people, and what it has to offer. Of course it is close to Samal, and I can visit whenever I desire.

At this time it appears to me that it would be more realistic to look into having a vacation home or bahay kubo on Samal with which to spend time at, much like my friend Kevin plans to do. If I were to need to live on Samal sooner than later, I would prefer to have something closer to the concrete road going from Babak to Penaplata. That makes sense to me, and is still very secluded. Of course I may feel differently down the road a bit.

I’ve met a surprising number of people, both in person and online, that live on Samal, at least part time. Ellen, Uli, Travis and Mae, Jack, Cleo, Matthew, and Angus. Probably more, I apologize if I missed someone. The point is, it can be done and many are doing it. I’m impressed by each and every one of them. A bit envious, too, I might add.

Samal Island holds a very special place in my heart. It remains to be seen if I end up there or not.

Related posts:
  1. Observations of a Retired American Living in the Philippines
  2. Why Samal Island? Part 1
  3. Planning a Trip to Samal Island
  4. Other Samal Island Updates
  5. Samal Island Websites

27 Responses leave one →
  1. Matthew permalink
    January 14, 2012

    Hi Randy,

    Without a doubt both Davao and Samal are two of my favorite places on earth.

    • January 14, 2012

      Hi Matthew – the nice thing is, you can live in either and enjoy both. I intend to.

  2. January 14, 2012

    Seems Wordbooker is still not working correctly. Drats.

  3. January 14, 2012

    My wife and I have a similar situation. We own property in Zambales, beautiful area about 45 minutes from Olongapo and Subic Bay. We had strong intentions to build there, but it’s just too remote.

    Now that there is both an SM Mall and an Ayala mall nearing completion there, maybe we’ll reconsider in the future.

    Many Americans tell me how malls and shopping don’t interest them. Join the club, I was very anti-mall and shopping when I lived in the US, but now our local SM Mall has become my lifeline. Everything from gas station through banking through restaurants and doctors and dentists, and fitness activities all under one roof, with parking.

    If I lived in the Davao area (and I could, easily, it’s my favorite place in the Philippines up to now), I would opt to live in the metro area and use Samal as a bahay cubo as you mentioned.

    I’ve been to Samal a number of times and enjoy it a lot, but I don’t think I’d be happy living there. I need my modern conveniences.

    Another thing which worries me about making the investment in a primary home there isd the on-again off-again talk of a bridge. Some people say it can’t happen because of the huge upfront expense. But those same people don’t realize how much of the Philippines already has been built using BOT financing, where a private investor puts up a structure, operates it for profit and then turns it over to the government.

    (Sorry Ellen, in case you are leading) but with the prices charged by the current ferries and the ever increasing traffic, a good case for a toll bridge could be made right now, today.

    And while a bridge would be a big boon to Island business, to me it would be the death of the place as far as residential environment. I’d rather invest in a home in some area not so at risk for sudden environmental change.

    • January 14, 2012

      I’m one of those Americans that rarely goes to malls, and avoids them whenever possible. You are correct that they are different there though. The grocery store is the most immediate example to me. I’ve not seen many malls around here with grocery stores. There it is almost a requirement to go to the mall to get them.

      As you also pointed out, the ATMs are there, the hardware stores, dentists….it’s just a different animal. I still don’t enjoy the crowds, but will put up with them for the convenience (not that I will have choice).

      I see what you are saying about the bridge, but I’d still be very surprised if that happens any time soon. There just isn’t enough on Samal at this time to make it worthwhile.The roads aren’t passible for most vehicles either. That needs to get taken care of before any bridge should be built. But if the bridge did come at some point, it would surely change the island, and I don’t know that I’d care to have it be my main residence at that point.

  4. January 15, 2012

    OK, Wordbooker comment handling should be working now. For those of you that don’t know what it is, it probably doesn’t matter. Just a plugin for WordPress to handle posting and comments to and from WordPress – Facebook.

  5. January 17, 2012

    Started my travel blog yesterday. Taking forever for the system to upgrade. LOL!

  6. January 17, 2012

    Thanks, I am hoping it goes good.

  7. January 26, 2012

    Hi Randy,

    How are you? Me and Brock have a house in Davao and now building a house in our mountain property less than 2miles from the Inn.

    We are thinking it over and over again if we should have both houses in Davao and Samal Island. If you own 2 houses, you need to pay 2 electric bills, 2 Satellite services for cable TV, water bill, etc. But we decided to do it as for these reasons:

    Need a house in Davao as what if one of them got sick(knock on wood)? It’s hard to rent a house in Davao for a week or month, we have a little business so everytime we will go to Davao to buy things needed in the Inn or construction materials we need a place to stay.
    Then we love the Island so much, so decided to build our house in the mountain as 3/4 of our days are in the Island. It is hard financially to cope up with 2 houses but need to do it as it is necessary for us right now.

    Note: There’s just one hospital in the Island located in Penaplata, then Kaputian(where we live is almost 16kms) from Penaplata.

    • January 26, 2012

      Hi Cleo – good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well, and the Captain Hook’s Red Parrot Inn is prospering. Hope I can come visit your inn one of these days.

      Being in your position, I could see the need for the home on Samal. Maybe more important than the one in Davao?

      I don’t want, or think I could afford, double bills as you say. That is one reason I think a bahay kubo might be a good idea for me for the island.

      I expect the hospital situation will improve on Samal as time goes also. There has been talk of that, and as the subdivisions start to build there will be more need for that, too.

  8. January 27, 2012

    Hi Randy,

    Yes, it’s started that we have some guest from different countries and local Filipino tourist. We started to have some diver guest here as we are just located infront of Talicud Island, where the best dive sites are located.

    We met Burt, the owner of Drifters/British Pub in Davao City. He came by here at the Inn and we are thankful for him as he recommend the Inn to some of his guest and we do the same to him. Uli came here as well, we advertise on his Samal Guide Book. And some of the expats visited us here too.

    Yes, Randy, you are very much welcome to visit us here. Brock and I want to meet you in person as we want to advertise in your site(Journey to Samal), please feel free to come here on your next visit to Samal Island and will take you to Talicud Island with our little boat for Island Hopping for FREE!!! That’s a promise… It’s FUN in Samal island!!!

    God Bless and more Power!!! We love your site…

    • January 27, 2012

      That’s great to hear. Glad that things are picking up for you.

      Uli does a nice job with the Samal Guidebook. Did not see your ad, must be in the issue after the one I got.

      I’ll certainly do my best to catch up with you on my next trip. If I can’t see you on Samal, maybe in Davao?

      I’ll get in touch with you before my next trip.

  9. Dine permalink
    February 17, 2012


    I hope you are feeling better after your flu. May I ask you, where do you live now, are you in USA or in RP? Anyway, what I was about to say…my husband and I own a place in Samal. We are planning to build a bahay kubo also. Our intention is to go back and forth to Malita, Davao del sur and Sama. We will build a small concrete house in Malita and an bahay kubo in Samal. Why Bahay Kubo?. To me, a Bahay kubo has a unique character to it….it is simple, tropical, beautiful and has humility in it. I believe in using all the natural resources that the mother nature can offer. I am aware it is a temporary home….however you can easily replace it with anything available around you with out spending too much money. I can just cut some of the old coco I have around the property and replace the old structure without any major problem,. Plus in the Philippines, especially in the rural areas you do not have too much building restrictions . In 10-20 years the bahay kubo will rot but I dOn’t care…by then I am retired and will die someday…we will all be part of the dirt so as my little, humble BAHAY KUBO!!!! Go Green!

    • February 17, 2012

      Hi Dine – yes, I am currently living in the USA – Spokane, WA.

      The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a bahay kubo on Samal. It is really the perfect place for it.

      You are right, if it doesn’t last, build another. They are very expensive.

      What part of Samal is your land on?

  10. DINE permalink
    February 18, 2012


    I am currently living in Savannah,Georgia. We purchaced a piece of property in Del Monte area. It is overlooking the Malipano island. We have looked for a place in that island for a long time. I really wanted a place with a shoreline but I like it big and kind of secluded. A shoreline with a size I am interested is very expensive, so we settled for an overlooking. The place is along the paved road going to Kaputian. This year we have to rent a bulldozer to scrape the road to our area. It has some slopes to it. Very pretty. We can enjoy the sunset where our bahay kubo will sit. I can’t really wait to get started with my bahay kubo,plant some vegetables, raise few ducks and chickens and maybe goats to keep the area clean. I will have a hammock under the coconut tree…I hope nothing drops or else I will shorten up my retirement. Simple living is what I am dreaming everyday. It will be few more years but I know it will happen. You know I am under the weather lately because of what is going with the economy.I think my husband and I have enough saved up for retirement to sustain us living in RP. I feel sorry for a lot of my co workers who does not have enough to help them when they retire. The best advantage for you and I , we have an option to live in RP. Although, we have to indure some heat and other inconveniences. We able to afford the luxury of a nice home and good food. As long as we are willing to live simple and make use of the resources available to the local people we will be able to live well.

    • February 18, 2012

      Sounds like you have a great plan. I would like to do something very similar.

      The Del Monte area is more secluded and agricultural from what I understand. I haven’t been there yet. I hope to see it at some point. There is a lot of Samal I’d still like to see.

      It’s difficult to know how much to save for retirement, and even more difficult to do it. I know I won’t have as much as I want to have saved, but will make work with what I have. Thankfully I know how to live within a budget, and look forward to a simple life anyway.

  11. Dine permalink
    February 19, 2012


    I have been looking at the real estate market trend for the past 5 years. I have seen a lot of great investment around the area of Samal. A lot of investors had purchased properties 1-2 hectares or more and subdivided and sold them per sqm. This is the current trend. I am not in favor of this idea because I really want Samal to stay the way it is now, secluded and quiet. I am probably selfish but I don’t want the bridge being built. The locals seems to like it and I can understand…what they do not comprehend is once this is built, in no time the developers come in from all over the country and will ruin SAMAL’s natural beauty. This will become very ordinary place…not a retirement place for people like us. Well….Del Monte is kind of far. It will take a while before the noise will hit us.

    Our property is enough size for us to handle and do our projects to keep us busy. At this time we have no power and water yet but we are near the main road. We can have it connected without any problem. Remember I mentioned about bulldozer? I know a girl who can help me rent it for few dollars from the city. If you are ready to have something done using a bulldozer someday, please let me know. We will see if this is really real first…you know filipino sickness. When do you think you are going to live there? How often do you go? I don’t think there will be a lot to worry about living in another place like Davao. Just don’t sell all what you have in America before you decide to stay in the Philippines. You will never know if you want to come back. As for us it will a while.

    • February 19, 2012

      Hi Dine – I don’t think you need to worry about the bridge for awhile, if at all. As it sits now, it’s not very likely, though things could change in the future.

      I’m a long ways off, if ever, from needing a bulldozer> As I said in the article, it’s more likely that I’ll be in or around Davao when I first get there. We’ll see when that is. I have my ideas, but my plans have changed many times already.

      I usually get there about once a year. Wish I could go more often, and for longer but I’m still working and that is all I can afford, both financially and time wise.

      That may be good advice about keeping home here, but if I do that I won’t be moving. Not in a position to be able to afford that kind of luxury. If I had to come back, I’d need to work again.

  12. Dine permalink
    February 19, 2012


    I understand. Almost all of us are in that predicament. My husband and I have enough to live in the Philippines when we retire but I don’t think we can afford to stay here the way it is going. At one time we wanted to sell our house here to move in a smaller house with a smaller mortgage….I mean down size…but we can’t afford to lose a lot of money due to the depreciation of our house value. I refrain from thinking about our situation here…..It is enough to make people crazy if you’ll let it. Hopefully, all of us with our good intention will be happy to retire someday in RP. I mentioned to you earlier about us growing our livestock and growing some plants…this should help us supplement our daily subsistence and hopefully can make us busy and at the same time able to live a healthy life. If you are staying in Samal…I can hopefully share with you our farm produce like eggplants, ockra, papayas, bananas and a lot of fruits for free!!!!! i am really hoping to share all what I will make with my good neighbors…..I mean good neighbors! I am in the process of researching the method of raising ducks without a water source…Samal has no good water source…this is very possible. I hope I am not boring you with all my dreams…I am always day dreaming. I hope I am not overly getting obsessed about living in Samal. Well…day dreaming makes you anticipate for a nice future and makes you work harder for a goal.

    • February 19, 2012

      Hi Dine, it seems to be harder and harder for people to retire here in the US. The economy has hurt a lot of people’s savings, but even before that it is getting so expensive that many people need to work well into their 70′s to be able to retire.

      I like your plan of growing your own food. If I had enough land, I would do the same. I may anyway, with whatever available space I have.

      It is easy to obsess about living on Samal. The good thing is, that I have met many people, through this blog, that are in fact living there, and many more that will.

  13. Dine permalink
    February 20, 2012


    I hope retirees will help each other to survive while living in RP . You will be surprise that your little space is more than you can handle. If you like vegetables, charge to experience a 20×20 space is all you need. Just take care of the plants and give them enough nutrients…it is all you can handle. I do this here at the backyard. I don’t know how big of a place you have but you can actually put a chicken pen at the other corner, you can have all the eggs you need. Afterall there is no t much restriction if you live in the barrios like Samal. Where is your place in Samal located? I wish we are near each other. Our place is actually more than enough…you are more than welcome to raise your chickens there. We will be glad to join a group of expats in Samal for the purpose of socialization and helping and supporting each other in times of need. At this time, we should learn how to be mindful of our neighbors to be able to live in this crisis.

    I love USA and i really enjoy living here, however, I can forsee the unaffordability of retiring , this is the main reason we switch gears and landed on the idea of living in the RP.We are aware about the difficulty due to the cultural and economic differences…but I believe that we will all make it. My principle this days …not to dwell on the what can go wrong , if not I will never be able get out of my house due to the fear of the unknown. Do you know that 3 mos. ago I was in my house with my daughter, a tornado tore up my backyard without my knowledge?????? When I look out the window I was wondering why my fence post and my beautiful bed of flowers were on top of the tree? Some of the houses were damaged and ours was spared. Life is too short and unforeseeable… Might as well do what we think is right, of course we are doing this with caution.

    • February 20, 2012

      I think I will try to grow whatever I can in whatever space that I have available. Do not think it will be on Samal in the beginning.

      It is difficult to imagine sometimes all the things that need to happen to be able to retire there. Overwhelming really if you try to think it all through. Best to just take a step at a time and keep working towards the goal. There will be many surprises along they way, but it will happen if it is meant to.

  14. Aaron permalink
    March 13, 2012

    May I ask -of anyone who is living on Samal and/or has good knowledge of land prices, what is the going rate in the more rural parts of the island (not beach front)?

    I don’t need cautioning about foreigner pricing, etc. Have lived in the Phils long enough to know all about that.

    • March 13, 2012

      Let’s see if anyone else answers…

      I think it is going to depend upon how remote it is, and how large a piece of land you want. Being able to show an undisputed, clear title is always worth noting.

      That said, I would think you should be able to get less than P1000 per sq meter, and maybe quite a bit less depending upon the criteria above.

  15. Aaron permalink
    March 14, 2012

    Thanks Randy; that’s about what I had hoped to hear…

    Which do you think is the more attractive option, for elevation with a view (any view) -driving south, north, or across. I have 4wheel drive so terrain is not an issue. I know the roads are total crap, but I think that will change before too many years pass.

    Regarding clear title; that is the one that troubles me most. Will have to research for a good expert in this area.

    • March 14, 2012

      I’ve not been to the eastside of Samal, so I’m not sure what the view and elevation are like there, but Mt. Puting Bato is closer to that side so there must be some elevation. You will get more for your money there, as it is not full of resorts (yet).

      Honestly, if you don’t go too far in you should get a great view from any hillside area. Personally, I’d probably go south, but maybe that’s just what I’m more used to. The view of Davao from the west side is really great.

      I believe the owner of the land that we had bought owned some hectares in Del Monte he was selling. If I remember that was fairly reasonable per sq m. Not sure about view though.

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