I arrived in the Philippines at the end of my overland journey. Mistakes and lessons learned I wanted to spend more time exploring and learning about a single country in my search for a place to call home. This Island nation delivered on many accounts ... Information here is based on my personal travel & research- updated: (Dec 2011)
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» Memorable places in The Philippines
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» The Filipino People
» The Filipino Language
» Do's & Do not's
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The Capital, a bustle of traffic congestion and a fear to many a traveler.
- It's big, and broken up into many districts, such as the tourist popular Makati and the airport district of Sucat. It's also hot, and doesn't have too much for a tourist to see other than giant Malls, and a few markets. But the experience of riding around I found good.
- It's the worlds 3rd largest, not my thing, but if you need anything, this is the place to get it.
- Looking for a new phone, gadget or designer gear, come here and be amazed by the amount of cheap and counterfeit goodies on offer.
- Tiny Island museum from WW2, worth it if you can get a group to go with you and share the expense of the ferry tour.
- Short trips out of Manila offer day and overnight trekking to nearby forest reserves and dormant volcanoes. Unfortunately the costs are ridiculous, and often times permits and a plethora of guide fees are needed. .
- Light Rail Transit. An often over crowded long ticket queued light train linking several areas together. Not my favorite, but outside under the bridges are some great markets and places to see. Just to see the real Manila. Not the safest place in the world, and certainly not for the average tourist. But I enjoyed the sights sounds and people living and working in these areas.
To the cool air of the north for caves and traditional burials. You have to pay a 20 pesos tourist fee to visit or stay in the town, and they insist you have to take a guide just about everywhere. So be prepared. There's also a 9pm curfew, but before that, all is good.
- In Echo Valley behind the town are cliff faces littered with coffins hanging from them. Well worth a trek. But avoid the 200 pesos tour to the view point where you can't see anything. A trek into the valley is far more rewarding and not hard.
- On the main road to Sumaging, is a little gate to the left with steps leading to a huge cave littered with Coffins. An amazing spectacle of old burial rights. Coffins lie in all manner of decomposed levels, and it's bad luck to point at them.
- A serious highlight, that needs a guide. Spend half a day underground in an amazing cave labyrinth. Be prepared to get wet, and wade through underground ponds. No swimming needed, but some short rappelling and traversing is required. Well worth it with the right guide.
- If you are an experienced trekker, this is the place to come. Either set off alone, but don't get lost, or with a guide and explore the unexpected of hidden caves, waterfalls, and nature; not to mention the odd coffin.
: I don't often consider this a highlight. But Sagada has some great eating places, just beware the town shuts down early.
: The start of the famous Philippine Rice Terraces, plus mountains and vistas.
- It's a small town, easy to walk. A cluster of locally produced souvenir stores are quite nice. The local market is small, and surrounded by cheap eating places. Accommodation is either in the surrounding resorts, or in the center, and prices vary door to door.
- A short tricycle trip will take you up the hill to a view point overlooking the impressive Banue UNESCO World Heritage Rice Terraces. Surprisingly there's no charge here. Just a few concrete platforms. But watch out for the locals dressed in Native Ifugao grab, unless you like to pay to take photos.
- No guides nor tours. Prepare some food and head off for a day walking these incredible terraces. Watch as locals tend to their upkeep and crops. Take your time talking to the locals too, English is well spoken here, and the people very friendly. It's easy to get lost though, so remember your trail and be careful as some of the terraces are falling apart.
Just to point out that the bus travel between these towns offers some quite spectacular mountain and hillside views.
: The Grand Daddy of the Philippine Rice Terraces.
- A Bus and a Jeepney, some trekking and hill climbing. It's a full day trip starting from early morning, and if you want to take it all in you'll have to leave early. Personally I would spend a night in the Terraces in local accommodation to spread the day out so it's not so rushed.
- They say you need a guide, but really the trail is well worn down the mountain side. There are plenty of vista sites en route. At the bottom of the trail is a small official hut where you can donate to help protect the rice terraces as they are in bad shape. But still impressive. Head out to the large waterfall, but bring some food. The entire trip can be strenuous if you do it all in one day.
Palawan's Capital. Easy going, filled with tricycles, but with plenty to see:
- One of the most interesting places I have been. A prison where the inmates roam free. Set up so prisoners can live with their families and work to earn a living. Go with an open mind, and enjoy. It's free to enter, and I would take a regular minivan rather than a rush through tour.
- Once known as the Crocodile farm, it's actually one of the better wildlife parks in the Philippines. Bear Cat's Bearded pigs, and yes 100's of Crocodiles, including a Gustav look a like. Entrance fee is about 50 pesos.
- A small center with a beautiful garden that's literally filled with butterfly's. Entrance is about 50 pesos.
- Known as a squatters place, the dock area is filled with stilt houses and friendly people. A spectacular sunset can be seen from here. Take caution with the large gaps in the wooden platforms, and at night.
Last big little town to the south of Palawan, a 5 hour trip from the capital. And discovery home to the worlds largest Pearl.
- Take your chances on the weather and head to the rough beach for nice sunrise.
- There's not much to do in Brooke's Point, but walk around the town's little clean streets, and take in the flavor of untouched Philippine life.
Another beach side town en route to / from Brooke's Point. Resorts galore and an occasional fiesta.
The real home or the world's longest river. 2.5 hours from the capital.
- Take no heed of the name. You can visit the river via a tour from the capital. But it's in Sabang. Pick of a 200 peso permit from the tourist office before either taking a 1700 peso boat ride to the river, or a free 2.5 hour walk through two trails below. The river boat ride itself is 45 minutes and does not go all the way through. Bring rubber sandals for the boat. You are not allowed take the trail routes past 3pm
- A 2.5 hour trek through the jungle and alone plenty of wood platforms on the way to the underground river. Be careful of this trail if it's high tide, as the sea might make it difficult to locate the trail at one point. The monkeys are near the end of the trail high up in the trees.
- Another route either two or from the underground river. No Monkey's or platforms here, just jungle.
- The free trail starts with having to sign a registration book. Then it's a stone strewn beach of a walk to a Chinese / Tibetan temple. Nothing major, just an unusual quirk to see. Then passed lots of Buddhist like written signs of good will you keep walking until you get to a waterfall that hangs over a cliff and splashes into the sea ... nearly.
A remote beach resort area that offer's links to El Nido via the South Chinese sea.
Tropical paradise lovers will be very happy here.
- Sign up and take a package tour of several islands for the day. Prices vary greatly from 250 no frills, to 1,000's. An average easy to find tour is about 500 pesos per person. They include lunch.
- A There are 100's of small islands in this area. Some just rocky out crops, others caves, and others with lagoons. Ask before you go to make sure the island is what you are looking for. Everything, can be arranged.
- Arranged via a local or for 250 pesos pp (min 2) from The art cafe in town. Quite literally a no rope near vertical cliff climb of 3 hours + up to the top of a cliff overlooking El Nido. There's a spectacular view from the top. Some fitness is required, and lots of water.
- Find a local boat man, or hire a tour to take you day time trawling or line fishing. At night you can head out at 6pm for squid fishing under the light of a gas lamp, returning at 11pm with your catch and a bbq.
- Whether they are tear drops from a giant, natural formations, or natural formations with a little human help, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol are impressive. But I still felt a little let down that there was not much to do but look at them from a look out point.
- Open 9am to 4pm it's smaller than you would think. An enclosure and a small office. Public transport is possible, but taking a hired tricycle will save time. The Tarsiers themselves are easy to spot, but avoid flash photos or touching them. Personally I would also avoid visiting any of the non official centers too, as some I saw just looked like pet stores.
- Not my thing, but the place is crawling with dive centers.
- The caves here are not on par with Sagada, but still enjoyable. The Trekking is very good here, along with the fact you can rent a motorcycle to head off by yourself.
- From Ballingoan (1hr from CDO via bus) Camiguin is a short 2 hour ferry ride. SeaCat direct from CDO has a new daily express service, but like all ferries the timetable is likely to change. The island itself is only about 72km in diameter and easy to navigate.
- It's the thing the tourist office and guidebooks blabber on about. Ardent Hot Springs, Soda Stream and any other name spring, there are at least a dozen. I found them all heavily disappointing and commercial. More like swimming pools than natural set springs. If your lucky ask a local for a real natural non pay spring. Otherwise Ardent is the better.
- For sure my Island highlight. No annoying fees either. Hop in local boat and paddle out on clear blue waters over a cemetery that sunk during an earthquake to a still standing cross. You can pay a little extra and hire a paddle boat for snorkeling and watch dazzling multicolored fish and coral around old tombs. Sadly I've learned that they are planning to built a new ferry port right beside this beautiful area, they say it won't spoil it. But it will happen. So view this place while you still can.
- An old volcano with a great peak just waiting to be climbed. They insist on only letting you go with an expensive guide, but local ones are around too.
- The one thing I found lacking in the Philippines was traditional dress etc. If you can make it to Camiguin for the annual Lanzones (small fruit) festival then you'll get a great show of traditional clothes during the Annual Parade, Miss Camiguin Contest and various other shows they put on here. Well worth the effort. The exact date changes, and it's a pain to find the timetable which is a shame.
- Again you'll have no problem finding a beach side resort here, nor dive stores.
- A giant sand bar to me. But a lot of people enjoyed the short trip out to this white sand patch in the middle of prime blue diving water.
If you are going to Camiguin island, check out my page all about the island including the ferry schedule to Camiguin Island.
Pump boats, trees, birds, rain, water, and a local house
- A protected area filled with exotic birds. It's a pain to get to. and expensive if you are alone. 5,000 + Pesos to hire the 'only' pump boat available for a day and a half, not including 'extras'. Likewise sometimes you need a permit to visit, sometimes you don't. Depending on whether the local office is manned or not. The strange thing is if you wander off in most river side towns in the Philippines you can visit a local house similar to here. For bird lovers it would be a big thing to visit though.
- 3 Malls, a central market and a port linking to most of the Philippines.
- In the center of the city is big wet and dry market, surrounded by a plethora of pirated DVD, clothes and food stalls.
- There are several companies offering to take you white water rafting. Going alone is expensive, but with a group its fine. As CDO is a city popular with Filipino tourists it's a great way to meet locals.
- every Friday and Saturday the center of CDO (Dvsoria) is sealed off from traffic and a night market opens up. There's live music (not traditional), a large viewing screen for sports viewing, and a large open air food cafe. A great place to sample Filipino nightlife, while indulging in fresh seafood, BBQ's and San Miguel. Afterwards why not chill back for a Blind Massage in the pedestrian area of nite cafe.
- Zip-lining, and horseriding activities abound. Not to mention a real Filipino cowboy ranch with lessons on offer.
- CDO is not the most happening of places, but its does offer a base for several trips throughout Mindanao. Including a rare visit to the worlds Largest Flower (rafflesia) in Baungon, Bukidnon. It blooms only once a year, and is not exact so good luck.
From mid November to around January 9th Tangub city becomes alive at night as the town center is lit up with christmas lights in an annual competition. A virtual fantasy world of multicolored lights, locally made decorations and festive cheer. Wander into each purposely constructed house or castle setting and marvel at the work that's gone into it. There is after all a 100,000 peso prize at stake.
- Once dusk begins to settle the town center turns into a great open cafe. Some of the best seafood is on hand as the city is surrounded on 3 sides by water. It's also incredibly cheap to eat here. Then take a quick night tour on either a makeshift golfing style tour bus, or a christmas train around the city that night. If you are away from home at Christmas time and miss the atmosphere, this is the place to come.
- There's not too much to do in Tabgub city after the lights, a visit to the friendly tourist office will help with arranging a visit to flower fields and forested areas.
Easy to get around compared to other cities in the Philippines. This could be due to the large wide roads as it all seems a lot less clustered and laid back. The usual jeepney's, taxi's and scattering of tricycles link everything up, and parts are very walk able if it's not too hot.
EA visit to either won't take to long, but for those interest in conservation the Philippine Eagle should be on the list.
One guide book refers to this as the Long Hua Temple. The name outside is the one I've quoted. It's a Chinese Buddhist Temple, and worth a visit as it's a refreshing change to see this type of building. Well kept with several rooms.
If you are facing the Saolin temple, take a right and walk 15 mins down the road, there's sign directing you to a street on the right, walk down it and take a left. 2 minutes up the road and you see a bright red tower. Buzz the doorbell behind the gate for the caretaker to open. Check out the prayer room behind the tower too.
If you like Durian, this is a good place to come, if you don't then take a look at the China town archway across from it. There's not much in China town - it's really just a street.
For me, this was a highlight of Davao. Stilt houses, friendly people, boat building, and a side of city life not many get to see. Down the side streets by the fruit market lead to the shore line. Dirty, and not for the average tourist. I would not go there if you are unaccustomed to areas of financial impoverishment and are worried about safety. Bring a local you trust if you are at all nervous about visiting such places. For me, I found some of the friendliest people in the Philippines right here.
The Philippines is part of South East Asia, but separated by water. Thus taking it off the backpackers trail and making it a great place to visit to get away from tourists. Manila is the main airport entry hub with Clark and the main airport taking most of the traffic.
Malaysia is linked via ferry to Mindanao via Zamboanga with twice weekly ferry's (Mon & Thurs). But keep an eye on the news as Mindanao is often plagued with military difficulties and disturbances. The Weesam is a fast ferry, and Allison a slow. Fares start at 2700 and 3000 for a cabin. Allison visa stamping out happens in the cantina, in Sandakan on the other side. Weesam happen on the boat, but Weesam was in dry dock for months whenever I went there.
Getting around the Philippines is not so easy on the cheap. Planes and ferry routes link the islands, so the fuel and economic risings have not made it better. Buses link the mainland areas. The hardest part I found was getting ferry timetables to plan. They are listed on some papers, but it's not so helpful and their websites rarely work. Best thing to do is hop into a quiet booking office and take out a piece of paper.
|Try my custom flight search for the lowest priced flights to and from The Philippines!
I was expecting the worst with nothing but rice and seafood. Everyone told me Filipino food was terrible. I found it the opposite. I really enjoyed Filipino food. Rice is indeed the mainstay, I don't particularly like rice either. But after that it's fresh bbq sticks of chicken, pork, and fish. Pancit is a sort of rice noodle dish which is a good filler. Adobo is a tender beef, pork or chicken dish and available everywhere. Then everything from Squid to Tuna steaks and Giant Prawns are all over the place.
I much preferred night markets to eat than malls. Malls and Mall restaurants are not so great. But good for cheap stomach fillers. Night time bbq Manok (chicken stalls) are a great place to fill up. I never got sick once from eating at night stalls. But my stomach did go bad from a mall pizza, and several fried chicken joints.
Jollibee is the Philippines' answer to McDonalds (which is also around), and is everywhere. As is Pizza Hut, and KFC. Personally I found Chow King to offer the best value meals. If you're looking for pasta or pizza head to Greenwich in any of the malls (update, the standards of Greenwich seem to have catapulted downwards recently, while the prices have gone up).
For vegetarians in the Philippines the options become harder. But there are countless bakeries all around. Fresh fruits, nuts and grains are available in all markets. Some Mall outlets cater specifically for vegetarians, but they're expensive.
Best of all, food in the Philippines is very, very cheap. Head to a local wet market and pick up a pound of sirloin steak for about USD$2 and and get a local BBQ stall to cook it up for you!
For the most part I found Filipinos to be very friendly. And also very honest. In markets and the like I rarely had an occasion of being over charged. Tours, taxis and trisikads aside. Make sure the taxi is on the meter, you prearrange a trisikad fare.
Honestly speaking I found the people in the North more open to conversation, while in the south they would shy away a little from general conversation. But once they start, it's hard to get them to stop, in a good sense.
It's easy mainly because so many people speak english. The Filipino language is also broken up across the country. But picking up the basics of Tagalog helps break the ice.
Do keep an eye on the News and Weather. The entire nation can often be battered with rainstorms, mudslides and so on. Also the south has it's fare share of violent problems.
Avoid walking around too late a night in city centers.
Power outages can happen, so carry a torch.
Locate where the life boats and life jackets are if you are taking a ferry. The Philippines has the worlds highest rate of sinking's, and I've seen the issues onboard; make sure you know what to do just incase.
Do take the time to visit local villages, it's a different world to the big cities, and tourist resorts.
|Where I stayed
||Try my custom search for the lowest priced hotels in The Philippines!
(A WARNING) Manila is strewn with hostels and hotels that charge by 8, 12, and 24 hour periods. Meaning if you check in at 4am then check out is at 4am the next day. Check the hotel's policy before checking in, and if necessary sit out a few hours before checking in to avoid losing out.
About 700-800 Pesos for a double with A/C and TV. Very clean, friendly staff and with it's own small restaurant and garden.
- Right along the main street opposite a hotel that's nearly twice the price. A nice older lady and her husband run this basic hotel.
- Laid back Backpackers place with singles and a dorm starting at 250 pesos.
- just down the road from the backpackers place in case it's full.
- At the end of the beach, 400 -500 pesos a night for a cottage. Good value, the staff could smile a bit more.
- At the end of the beach this basic but nice place will provide a cottage from 500 peso up.
- a nice place offering well kept bamboo cabins run by a European couple that won't break the bank.
- a 5 minute walk from the center of town, basic, clean and cheaper by a mile than any resort.
- Located in Dvsoria it's not the cheapest, but it's clean with WiFi.
- Run by a nice lady, the rooms are very clean with shared bathrooms. It's cheaper than most and is the blue multistory building on the main road just as the hill starts to descend a little steeper.
- A new hotel with fantastic super plush rooms at rock bottom prices. Blighted slightly by some local drinkers outside.
I never expected to stay in the Philippines for quite as long as I did. The country offers a lot to someone in search for a new place to live. But it's also got it's downsides. Basically to live here, you have to have money. And for residence, a Filipino wife / husband. Likewise with property. It's also near impossible to earn a legal living as a foreigner. That said, if you settle, the cost of living is very low, and the life style very very easy. To me the Philippines is a great place to retire to, an even better place to die. Sounds strange, but in a place where they look after you so well, it makes sense. To live here for me, who likes independence and the ability to work, it's a big problem.
How much is a daily budget in the Philippines?
This is tough. The Philippines is cheap, but to travel can expensive. Tours and the like are expensive. Flights, and ferries while not expensive by the developed world.
Accommodation is also expensive compared to the rest of SEA. A room for 400-600 Pesos is not that easy to find. While 1000+ plus pesos gives you something nice.
The real bonus in the Philippines is food, it's very cheap. 70 pesos buys you a meal. 150 for a traveler's appetite. After that, the costs go up, but it's still cheap. It's very hard to give a daily costing due to travel and tours, $30 is a safe low end bet not including a ferry or flight. Living in one place with no travel can be as low as $8- per day.
How to save money in the Philippines?
Do not buy an expensive package tour from overseas unless you have the money to waste or no time. Most travel agents inside the Philippines are a lot cheaper. Independent travel is also cheaper.
Cebu Pacific offers deals mid week. Sign up to their newsletter to get the latest offers. Erm, if their email is working that is.
If you are staying more than one night, ask for a discount. Everyone does it, and it's often works.
Food is cheap anyway. But eating at market stalls, university cafes is a lot cheaper than constantly going to the Mall.
Go Public. Jeepney drivers may look fierce, but I found them a friendly bunch often willing to help. Tricycles are not so friendly but are all over the place, and very useful to get door to door. Trisikads are often very cheap, and cramped with the drivers not speaking good English but useful for short distances if you know the price. Taxis are cheap, but put them on the meter and have change ready as they will always claim not to have any.
What are the Banks/ATM's like in the Philippines?
Plentiful with Debit, Visa and Mastercards all accepted. Unfortunately in 2010 many banks have begun charging foreign ATM and credit cards an additional 200 pesos ($5) per transaction. What's worse is that many are only allowing a maximum cash withdraw of $75. Bigger banks will allow withdraws of $150 from main towns. Most ATM's are located at malls or in a city center. Use one that has a small queue to be sure it's working well and facing away from the hot sun to see the screen. Change is not a problem in Malls, but locally a 1,000 bill can be a headache. Watch out for the 15th and 30th every month; it's a pay day and the queues can be long.
What guide book?
The Rough Guide to the Philippines is complete trash. Seriously outdated prices aside, it's outdated and poorly put together to say the least. Lonely Planet is a bit better, but like any guide book, take the prices with a grain of salt.
Is The Philippines full of backpackers?
No. There are very few. The inconvenience of being off mainland SEA, and the transport issue keeps most backpackers away. The main tourists are families, and honeymooners. There is however a large expat community. Consisting mainly of older white men and younger Filipino partners. Personally I found some to be a little creepy, others fine, just living their lives. There are not many female foreigners around at all. There are also a host of missionaries dotted around the place.
How to deal with stomach problems in The Philippines?
Fresh seafood, bbq's and cheap beer. Depending on your own stomach, you can pretty much guess the problems. Giardias is common, as are other little bugs. To be honest though I never had a problem except from fast food from a Mall. Pharmacies are plentiful, though the cost of medicine is quite high compared to other places. Bottled water is everywhere, and most other table water in Malls is meant to be filtered.
I've seen creepy old white men and women all over the world. The Philippines is no different. There are however more white men with Filipino partners than white women. Much like in Ghana where there are more creepy old white ladies with young local men than white men. As for Prostitutes, personally I have not seen that much evidence that would separate the Philippines out from a lot of other countries.
Fake memory cards and batteries are a problem. Head to a Mall and buy a brand you know from a dealer name you recognize. It will be more expensive than a local market or a cheap Filipino electronics store like CD-R King, but you'll have better luck. Having said that, there are other great bargains in these electronic stores. There are plenty of internet cafes dotted around city streets, and Malls. WiFi is also popular in hotels.
Volunteering and teaching English in The Philippines?
There are quite a few opportunities to volunteer in the Philippines. Visit the place you wish to volunteer and get to know them first. Avoid paying to volunteer. Teaching English in the Philippines is not a good option. Most Filipinos speak English, it's also frowned upon and illegal to do so as a foreigner. Though private lessons are not unheard of.
There are departure taxes just about everywhere in the Philippines. From ferries to airports, and even a few extra charges creep in like maintenance?!! You'll see the signs and costs en route, they vary a lot, the ferry ones usually under 20 pesos, the airports ones a few hundred.
Different kinds of local Filipino transport
There's a host of different Filipino transport to choose from, and to make matters a little confusing, the names change per region.
- LRT: Light overland city rail. FX: medium distance jeeps. Jeepney: a small bus, nationwide. Tricycle/Trisikad: 3 wheeled motorbike (aka Rickshaw/Tuk Tuk). Motorcycle: small human powered 3 wheeler (aka cycle rickshaw)
- No LRT, no FX. Tricycle becomes "Rella" or "Motorrella". Motorcycle becomes "Padyak" or "Trisikad"
A pet peeve of mine throughout the Philippines is Mall security. Whenever you enter a mall though the "Entrance" door and not "Exit" door you will be split into a male and female line. Though this still seems to cause confusion to many people.
Then a white shirted security person will grunt at you with a tiny wooden stick, meaning you should unzip your bag for inspection. You then open one zip (no matter how many compartments you have) and watch as the little stick is barely inserted into the bag and guard gazes vaguely in the same direction. A queue of bustling people behind you, that's it.
All your other compartments go unchecked as does your body. Though an occasional pat down of the waist can happen. In my view a complete and utter pointless waste of time that annoys me.
Likewise having to leave your travel pack at a baggage counter before being allowed into most stores. I never did. Just claim you have $2000 in the bag, a $4000 camera etc. They'll let you through.
Oh, and SM Mall has a bizarre policy that you can't take a photo of their malls from the outside. Go onto a public bit of road, and start snapping away. Then watch as a load of white shirted security men come racing over to you. You're on public property and they are private security so you're fine so long as you don't 'go' with them.
Visas in The Philippines?
I'll keep this basic, the main Philippine immigration link is at the top of this page and gives you full details. When you fly in you get a stamp which gives you 21 days free pass. After that you need to go to a local immigration office, most big towns have one. To extend another 38 days costs around 3,020 Pesos. After that it's about 4,200 for 60 day extensions. The costs here are rough, through the link you can get exact costing's. Manila is said to be a pain, to get an extension, long waits etc. Just about anywhere outside of Manila offers extensions on the same day. Longs pants, shirt and respectful attire is required.