Why Philippines is the best kept Secret of Southeast Asia?

“It’s more fun in the Philippines”

Pic taken by using Autofocus of Asus Zenfone 2 Laser

El Nido, Philippines, voted as the best island in the world

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:

1) People

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.

Filipinos are always smiling even if they are faced with problems that would normally depress or put down people from other nations.

Filipinos are always smiling irrespective of the problems

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.

The 91m majestic Pagsanjan Falls, Laguna,

The 91m majestic Pagsanjan Falls, Laguna, Philippines

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.

Take a Morning Stroll at Virgin Island, Panglao

Virgin Island, Panglao, Philippines

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Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

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.

Jeepney

Jeepney - the 100% personalised and cheap local means of transport, Philippines

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.

Filipinos love their Malls. Seen here is Greenbelt Mall, Makati City

Greenbelt, Makati City  - Malls in the Philippines are huge and green

A meal even at a high end restaurant doesn't cost too much

A meal even at a high-end restaurant doesn't cost too much in the Philippines

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.

Related: Why Bohol is a must visit Island in Philippines

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 🙂

TRAVEL TIPS:

  1. Best time to travel is November to March
  2. Couchsurfing community is very active here, which helps you in getting to visit the interesting places which might take you years to spot
  3. Do food shopping from local malls or convenience stores to save money
  4. When you get down to the airport, be ready to spend 1-2 hours waiting for a metered taxi. Else, shell out more money
  5. Try local transport – Jeepneys, the very unique, customized and modified American Jeeps. Tricycles - motorcycles with a sidecar attached.
  6. 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.
  7. Sample local food. There is enough variety for all. I am a vegetarian and unlike other countries, I didn’t struggle for food here
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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.

32 Comments

  • Robe says:

    i loved how you described Philippines. Made me jealous that you have explored Philippines more than me who is a Filipina. Keep safe always!

  • Sibelle says:

    Loved it! I’m so happy you enjoy our country and our people. Safe travels!

  • Shayne says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Philippines! I agree with most of your observations, I noticed however about the tip expectation you mentioned which is at 200php. That’s pretty generous already 🙂 But still, thanks for appreciating our country and its people 🙂

    • Thanks Shayne for your lovely comments. Merci Beaucoup!

      I wrote this article when I first visited Philippines in March/April that time I wasn’t too aware about how much tipping is acceptable. I just did what I was told to. Now I know the tricks of the game 😛

      Once again thanks for visiting the blog.

      Hope to see you soon 🙂

  • Love your post especially your pics! I just want to make a correction though. There’s no minimum tip here and Im not sure what you mean by 200php tip. Is that for tour guides or restaurants? For restaurant, 200 is too big. They’ll worship you! Lol. I normally give tips around 30-50php in restaurants and to 50-100 the drivers (depending how far) and theyre more than happy with that. I think same for tour guides. Especially in provinces, thats more than enough.

    • Thanks a lot Christine for liking the post. After staying here for more than three months, I now understand there’s no minimum tip here. I wrote 200php because when I had gone to Pagsanjan Falls, the boatman refused to take 100php as tip. He said minimum tip was 200. That post was written after my first impressions about Philippines.

      Thanks for pointing out again 🙂

  • Mary Anne says:

    Excellent posts and photos! Thanks for sharing.

  • sujomathew says:

    Good post, Thanks for sharing your travel experience to Philippines

  • Soulmuser says:

    I visited the Philippines in November last year and fell in love. I agree with every word in your beautiful article. The country has the friendliest people, and I feel I left a piece of myself behind there. Can’t wait to go back and just find an empty beach again.

    • Thanks a lot Smitha for your kind words. And you are bang on Philippines is a beautiful country and the most striking thing is its people. They make you feel at home. And it’s true absolutely true – it’s more fun in philippines 🙂

  • Very interesting and information packed blog. The jeepneys look like so much fun. Also the disappointed nose bit was hilarious. The video amused me. Never seen a boat ride as quirky as this.
    This blog had made me think of Philippines as a fan place for vacation. In India, not many people plan trips to Philippines….

    • Thanks a lot Abhinav. The pagsanjan falls ride in the boat, banca and bamboo floating platform was killer. And guess what. It was just a day trip from Manila. So you can really utilise your weekends well 🙂

      Palawan is the best jewel of Philippines. Very beautiful. Very calm. There have been times when I had the full island to myself.

      Yeah, Philippines is really underrated when it comes to tourism. But once people visit it they cannot fall out of love with it. One thing that deters Indian tourists to come here is the lack of a direct flight. But still there are many Indians here.

      Do make a plan and see the paradise yourself 🙂

  • Deepika says:

    Loved the article and so nice to see more and more Indians venturing out in search of offbeat. Will put Philippines on my list now. 🙂

  • Ratna says:

    Good one. 🙂 Keep posting!!

  • Editor says:

    I would like to publish this article at http://wwww.intelligentindia.in, you can reach me at businesseditor@intelligentindia.in

  • Glenn says:

    Great post and photos! There’s so much to see in The Philippines!

  • Inês Serôdio says:

    Man, I’m sold! It sounds amazing with the hospitality and 1000s of undiscovered islands. I did hear about Boracay and it sounds awesome. And what’s that Ayala museum about? One of my surnames is Ayala! Am I a 5th Phillipino? That’d be so cool!

    Moi by Inês

  • Many of my friends are from Philippines, but now I realize that why they love to travel the world. There whole country is a paradise and thus they are more eager to explore other paradise on earth. Great post Archana.

  • Tony (tonyandkimoutdooradventures) says:

    Your read was interesting compared to a couple I have read of late. You pointed out some nice activities and some nice beach islands. Thanks for the read.

  • Oh well, when the country has it all, right! Was just following your story – people are great, a lot of things to see (love the fact that you didn’t “reduce” it to beaches only!), rich wildlife, volcano rocks, unexplored islands, not expensive… And I can only imagine how you felt, not expecting anything when going there. 🙂 Glad you’ve had such nice time!

  • Igor Mozek says:

    We visited Philippines last year and were also absolutely amazed by the people and nature. We stayed in Cebu, did canyoneering and whale shark diving and than went to Bantayan Island. Paradise beaches! For shure a country to go back again and again!
    http://www.tripblogpost.com

  • Philippines sounds great! Is it safe for women? Have read a few incidents of the locals being creepy sometimes. The unexplored islands sound like an adventurer’s dream!

  • Hi Archana,

    You bring me warm memories of my trip. True that Filipinos are so in love with music – i fell for Elvis Presley’s albums on the way to ELNIDO from PPS. PH is truly an amazing country – bountiful and pristine.
    Missed the whale sharks and volcano.. 🙁

    PS: I had a tough time securing the visa to PH. if only we had VOA or exemption, it would encourage more Indians.

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