“It’s more fun in the Philippines”
Neither had I heard this line before nor a thought to visit Philippines crossed my mind until I visited the Philippines. But when you have zero expectations, you get maximum return. Others opinions and tastes don’t cloud your mind. And that’s exactly what happened to me on my first visit to the Philippines. Philippines is everything but your regular SE Asian country. From the time I landed in the unspoiled heaven until I took off, I was completely mesmerized by this magical land.
Here are my reasons why you should junk your plans to visit any other SE Asian country and straight away head to the Philippines:
Filipinos are the friendliest people you'll come across anywhere in South East Asia. Even if you wake them up in the middle of the night or repeatedly ask silly questions, you’ll still be greeted with a never-ending genuine smile. They are extremely warm and hospitable. Like Indians, they too believe in “attithi devo bhava” (Guest is equivalent to God). You'll be invited to their homes. You'll be asked to participate in the all-night karaoke activity (their favorite pastime). You'll be fed the tastiest meal - Lechon, Adobo, Halo Halo dessert, Buko Pie dessert, Balut fertilized duck eggs, an amazing variety of seafood, freshest and juiciest tropical fruits or any other kind of world cuisine your heart desires. If you are lucky then you would be offered Kopi Luwak – the most expensive coffee. You'll be given the best bed to sleep. Basically, no corners will be cut to give you a VIP treatment. When you visit any store you'll be addressed with “Good evening Mam”, “Mam, may I help you”, “Mam, please visit again”. Even if you ask them at midnight for an excursion trip, be rest assured it will be organized. The doorman will not blink an eyelid when you ask him to call for a taxi at wee hours. If you are new to the city, they'll come to your place to pick you up. You'll be showered with compliments - “Hey pretty lady, you are so beautiful”. Nobody will hustle you. Although, you will be cautioned to stay away from the old parts of the city at late hours.
2) Variety of experiences
Whether you like island hopping or exploring the unexplored beauty of warm-water beaches and coastlines you can have to yourself or trekking through the smoldering volcanoes or exploring the intricate cave systems or travelling back in an historical era or getting the adrenaline rush through water sports or diving into oceans for underwater landscapes or discovering the undiscovered backpacker trails or anything else you can think of…The Philippines has it all. It’s a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers - 200 mammal species, 600 species of birds, and 488 coral species. Can you imagine the thrill of kayaking in world’s longest navigable Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan or taking a 1-2 hrs of a scenic boat ride to get to the majestic 91 m Pagsanjan Falls? I reckon you can’t. Unless you experience it yourself.
3) Unexplored Islands
Finding a picture perfect beach that isn't overcrowded is like finding a needle in the hay. Unless you're in the Philippines. In a country made up of over 7,000 islands, beautiful beaches are bound to be everywhere. If you like to party on dreamy white beaches then Boracay Island is your destination. If you want to be on untouched breathtaking landscape then head to Dumaluan Beach of Panglao Island in Bohol, Coron and El Nido Islands of Palawan, Dumaguete and Camiguin Islands among 1000s of other hidden heavens. The good thing about the Philippines is you don't have to travel for hours to get off the beaten track and find a serene beach. Diving here is a blast! 488 among the 500 known coral species in the world are found here. Many of which has grown since the Ice Age.
4) South America of Asia
Being ruled by Spain for 350 years, Philippines carry a huge resemblance to South America in terms of architecture, religion, culture, and festivals. But Spanish did not mingle with the local that’s why the Spanish language could never become the first language of the Filipinos. Very few Spanish married or settled with Filipinos and it is very easy to find out who did. As my local friend chuckled-
With Spanish blood – white skin and pointed nose. Without Spanish blood – brown skin and disappointed noses.
However, Americans, who ruled the Philippines for 48 years, embraced the locals with open arms. No wonder 90% of the Filipinos speak English, basketball is the most watched sports and the highest paid athlete is a boxer. Jeepneys - their famous transport vehicle too is a gift from America. Americans too love the country that’s why the second highest number of tourist comes from America every year.
5) Great value for money
The Philippines won’t burn a hole in your pocket. It offers amazing value to what you end up spending. Transportation is cheap – Jeepneys, Pedicycles, Tricycles, Bancas and not to forget the low-cost airlines like Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, Air Asia etc. Hotels are cheap. The excursions are not only cheap and adventurous but safe too. Food seems to be tastier. Thanks to the lesser amount you spend on eating out. Manila is Shopper’s delight - Greenbelt and Fort Bonifacio for high-end flashpackers and Greenhills for bargain hunters. Though tipping is a part of the Filipino culture people are not money minded. And guess what? Their service tax is just 5% as compared to our 14%. At the end of the day, spending money on exploring the Philippines is money well spent.
And, if you are looking for a luxury hotel to stay in Manila do check out Raffles, Makati.
I can go on and on describing my new found but long-lasting love for the Philippines. But I would stop here and let you discover it yourself.
As a parting thought, please do have a look at this video. I am sure you won't be thinking for long where to go next 🙂
- Best time to travel is November to March
- Couchsurfing community is very active here, which helps you in getting to visit the interesting places which might take you years to spot
- Do food shopping from local malls or convenience stores to save money
- When you get down to the airport, be ready to spend 1-2 hours waiting for a metered taxi. Else, shell out more money
- Try local transport – Jeepneys, the very unique, customized and modified American Jeeps. Tricycles - motorcycles with a sidecar attached.
- Tipping is a prevalent culture in the Philippines. Though there's no minimum tip amount some people might expect for as high as 200php. Give as much as you please not as much as they expect. Tip between 30-50php is good.
- Sample local food. There is enough variety for all. I am a vegetarian and unlike other countries, I didn’t struggle for food here
- Travel back in time – visit Intramuros - the old Spanish quarter, Ayala museum, Blackbird, Nielson Tower - A heritage site converted into an Alfresco dining place from country's first airport
- Don’t spend too much time in the city. Get out and explore. If struggling for time, take day tours to Pagsanjan falls, Tagaytay volcano and lake trek, Corrigedor war memorial, hidden valley among others
- Filipinos are music lovers. It is an understatement to say that Filipinos love karaoke. Make sure you are a good singer before approaching the mic. Besides visiting the local karaoke or videoke bars, do keep an eye on international music concerts. One Direction was performing the night I left the Philippines. Wish I had searched earlier.